Briton Jay Howard Keeps His Cooper Series Win Streak Alive in Cleveland
Cleveland, Ohio (June 25, 2005) -- A huge 40-car field assembled for the first of this weekend's two Cooper Tires Championship Series races at the Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio, but no one could knock series leader Jay Howard off his perch as the 24-year-old Englishman romped to a fifth consecutive victory in Marshall Aiken's #22 newhoneys.com Van Diemen RF02.
"What can I say? It was a great day," said Howard. "The car was so consistent and so fast, it made my job easy."
Howard didn't get the most out of his car in qualifying and lined up "only" third on the grid after failing to get a clean run around the fast, 2.106-mile temporary circuit. But he made an incisive move to the inside of the first corner, grasped the lead from polesitting Canadian Mike Forest (#44 Dynacor/Miracle Seal/PRI Motorsports Mygale SJ04) and never looked back. Howard led all 21 laps to become the first man in Cooper Series FF2000 history to win five consecutive races.
Second place was taken by gifted young American J.R. Hildebrand, who kept up his amazing string of podium finishes since turning professional at the start of the season. Hildebrand, 17, from Sausalito, Calif., had finished among the top three in each of his six West Coast Cooper Tires Pacific F2000 Series races this season after winning the 2004 SCCA Formula Russell Championship.
The youngster started only sixth but made an excellent start and then vaulted up to second place when PR1 Motorsports teammate Forest made a poor getaway from the pole and then fellow front row starter Joey Foster made a couple of mistakes on the opening lap to fall back to eighth.
Hildebrand pressured Howard throughout the first half of the race before one slight slip left him with a small deficit which he was unable to overturn before the checkered flag.
"Hey, I'm thrilled with second," said Hildebrand, who finished 2.380 seconds adrift of Howard. "It was a good race for me and the car was good."
Howard's Aiken Racing teammate Chris Guerrieri celebrated his 22nd birthday by finishing a strong third, followed by 2004 Pacific F2000 champion Brad Jaeger, from Cincinnati, Ohio, in the #77 PR1 Motorsports Mygale.
Ricardo Vassmer, from Caracas, Venezuela, won the Cooper Gold Cup class for Pinto-engined cars for the fourth time this season. Vassmer qualified an impressive eighth and overcame a tardy start in his #25 UltraLub/Comprent Motorsports Van Diemen RF01 to finish 12th overall, just over two seconds clear of the super-consistent current Cooper Gold Cup points leader Doug Kniffin, who had started a lowly 26th in his #13 Pioneer Magnetics/Greisinger Racing Van Diemen RF99.
Jason Byers (#28 A&B Refrigeration/St. Clair Motorsports Van Diemen RF03), from Livonia, Mich., was the first Cooper Masters finisher (for drivers over 35 years of age) in sixth. Byers had started way back in 24th after making a mess of qualifying, but he worked his way steadily through the pack and just geld off fellow Masters contender, Matt McDonough (#19 TASC Technical Services/GTP Motorsports Van Diemen RF02). McDonough had started fourth but made complete mess of the first corner and fell to dead last. His drive back to seventh provided one of the highlights of an entertaining race.
The action will continue with Round 6 tomorrow, starting at 12:05 pm local time. Howard will start from the pole by virtue of posting the fastest lap in today's race at 1m 14.655s, an average speed of 101.555mph.