Hildebrand Sets a New Standard and Cameron Scores His First-Ever Victory
Cleveland, Ohio (June 25, 2006) -- The Florida-based Cape Motorsports team once again proved an irresistible force in this weekend's pair of Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 Championship races run as part of the Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland event on the fast Burke Lakefront Airport temporary circuit.
Series leader J.R. Hildebrand, 18, from Sausalito, Calif., dominated the proceedings on Saturday, establishing a new record by winning his seventh race in succession. He looked set to win on Sunday, too, until an error in Turn Eight handed the advantage to teammate Dane Cameron. The 17-year-old from Sonoma, Calif., duly established his credentials for the future, establishing a new lap record as he romped away to a well-deserved maiden victory.
Cameron, driving the #19 Finlay Motorsports/Jim Russell School/Red Line Oil Van Diemen, served notice of his intentions on Saturday morning when he earned the pole for Race One by posting the best qualifying lap at 1:13.852 -- a scant 0.038s fleeter than Hildebrand's #2 Formotion/Spy Optics/Mockett.com Van Diemen.
The pair led the 30-car field safely through the notoriously tricky Turn One, whereupon Hildebrand took advantage of a faster exit by drawing alongside Cameron on the run toward Turn Three. The two white Van Diemens sped side-by-side into the right-left sequence of corners but it was Hildebrand who emerged ahead. Cameron instead fell into the clutches of Chris Meredith (#3 MII Security/Bertil Roos School/Primus Racing Van Diemen), in a third Cape Motorsports car, and Ricardo Vassmer, who made a fine start from sixth on the grid in his #25 Meridiano Television/Santa Barbara Airlines/JDC Motorsports Van Diemen. Their in-fighting allowed Hildebrand to break clear, and he was never seriously challenged en route to his record-breaking seventh straight win.
"I can't say enough about this team," said Hildebrand, who finished 12.432 seconds to the good and finally broke the mark established in 1993 by Chris Simmons and equaled last year by Jay Howard. "I made a couple mistakes this weekend [crashing in Friday practice, in which he completed only one lap, and then clipping a curb and tweaking his car's front suspension in qualifying], so I was able to benefit from these guys [teammates Cameron and Meredith] to get back up to speed and do what I had to do in today's race."
Cameron held off a charging Meredith, from Potomac, Md., to take second, while Vassmer, hindered by some understeer, slipped to fourth ahead of top Cooper Masters contender Jason Byers, from Livonia, Mich., whose #28 A&B Refrigeration/St. Clair Motorsports Van Diemen snuck ahead of and New Zealander Andy Knight, in the G.FRO team's #33 TRANE/Latimer Hotel/Napa Van Diemen, in the closing stages.
Hildebrand set the fastest lap to assure himself of the pole for Sunday morning's race and seemed set fair for an astonishing eighth straight win until a moment's inattentiveness while lining up to pass a slower car in Turn Eight on the 11th lap led him to stray a wheel onto the grass and spin.
"It was a mistake on my part,"admitted Hildebrand, who recovered to finish second, 5.276 seconds behind Cameron. "It's a lousy way to lose a race but I'll try to get back on top again when we go to Toronto [for another pair of races, again run in conjunction with the Champ Car World Series, in two weeks' time, July 8/9]."
Cameron, meanwhile, was thrilled to take the victory spoils, capping a fine weekend's work.
"I'm just so happy," he said. "We knew we could win some races this year. J.R.'s been perfect up until now, but we're starting to catch up to him. We made a few changes to the car overnight and it was just perfect."
Vassmer also profited from some setup changes to earn a fine third-place finish ahead of Knight, Byers and Clark Cambern, from Lansing, Mich., in the #52 Denison Consulting/Adams racing Van Diemen.
Teenager Cole Morgan, from Lighthouse Point, Fla., enjoyed another clean sweep in the Cooper Gold Cup class, for older, Pinto-engine cars, maintaining his unbroken streak this year and finishing 14th overall on Sunday and 17th on Sunday in the #11 Morgan Homes/Lee Racing/10-Tenths Motorsports Van Diemen.