Podlesni Perfect at Buttonwillow as Forest Clinches Pacific F2000 Crown
Buttonwillow, Calif. (September 26, 2005) -- Rookie Robert Podlesni displayed dazzling form in the final rounds of the Pacific F2000 Championship Presented by Mickey Thompson Tires/Cooper Tire this past weekend at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, while second-year combatant Mike Forest did just enough to clinch the series title in a dramatic finale.
"It was the weekend I've always hoped for," said a delighted 17-year-old Podlesni, from Thousand Oaks, Calif., after gaining the maximum possible haul of 48 points by virtue of taking two wins, two poles and two fastest laps in his #84 Dave Freitas Racing Van Diemen RF03. "I hope there will be many more of these in the future."
Forest, meanwhile, was both relieved and elated on Sunday evening. The 24-year-old recent college graduate from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, guided PR1 Motorsports' #8 Dynacor/Miracle Sealants/Earth Water Mygale SJ04 to a solid second-place finish on Saturday and was running third in the early stages of Sunday's season finale -- more than enough to out-score his troubled PR1 Motorsports teammate J.R. Hildebrand -- until he spun wildly through the flat-out Riverside sweeper on lap 5 while attempting to hold off the #30 NAPA Auto Parts/Valvoline/Denso/P-1 Racing Van Diemen RF02 of Brea, Calif.'s John Lombardo Jr.
"I could tell he had a faster car," related Forest, "and within a lap or two I was going to let him go. He got a good draft on me and I tried to give him some room but I just got too wide and slid out onto the marbles."
Lady Luck was on Forest's side. He lost several positions after plowing backward through the dirt but his car was unscathed and he was content thereafter to finish sixth, securing the necessary points to clinch the series crown.
"Too close!" he reflected. "I made it more difficult for myself but I'm happy. It's what I've been aiming for all year. This is a great series. It's exactly what I needed. I've learned a lot, there are some very good drivers and I really had to fight for it."
Forest had been a dominant force in the early part of the season, winning each of the first four races and paving the way for his well-deserved championship title.
Hildebrand's remarkable record of consistency sadly deserted him in the series finale. The youngster from Sausalito, Calif., had parlayed a sequence of 10 consecutive top-five finishes into the championship lead prior to Buttonwillow, but he crashed massively on the first lap of Saturday's race while running in third place behind Podlesni and Forest, causing the race to be red-flagged.
Hildebrand was fortunate to emerge unscathed from his badly damaged #66 Jim Russell Racing School/Spy Optic Mygale SJ04. He arranged a deal to take over series promoter Les Phillips' older, Pinto-engined Van Diemen RF01 for Sunday, and showed his mettle by qualifying a fine second. Hildebrand maintained that position for the first 10 laps before a couple of missed shifts put paid to his efforts. He had to be content with second place in the championship and the top rookie honors.
"As the late Dale Earnhardt once put it, 'You win some, you lose some and you wreck some.' That's the story of my weekend. I came here with the championship lead and I guess it just wasn't meant to be," said the 17-year-old Hildebrand of his championship aspirations. "Ultimately I'm pleased with second place and we'll be back next year."
Podlesni, too, plans to return to F2000 in 2006 with Fullerton, Calif.-based Dave Freitas Racing, and on the strength of this weekend he will be a hard man to beat. Four straight poles and three wins has catapulted the talented rookie to third place in the championship standings. "Poodles" also secured the coveted "Summer Cup" by virtue of accumulating more points than any other driver during the second half of the 12-race campaign.
Podlesni's tally of 104 points from the final six races easily eclipsed the scores of Forest (78), Lombardo (77) and Hildebrand (72).
Lombardo enjoyed another strong weekend at Buttonwillow, finishing third on Saturday and second yesterday, when he was followed home by the ever-improving Chris Hundley, from North Hollywood, in P-1 Racing's similar #31 The Limousine Connection Van Diemen RF05. The result ensured the first 1-2-3 finish of the season for the previously dominant Van Diemens which have faced tough competition this year from the French-built Mygales.
Greg Minium placed fourth on Saturday in his return to the Pacific F2000 Series with the #12 Law Offices of Kolod-Wager/Baccarella Insurance Mygale SJ05.
Fourth place on Sunday was taken by Tim Harris in the #20 Apex Fire Systems/Mihms Truck Repair/Ray Stephens Racing Mygale SJ05. The resident of Irvine, Calif., was hotly pursued by impressive season debutant and former karting star Travis Irving, who climbed aboard Jeremy Shaw and Peter Hansel's #96 Comar Performance Van Diemen RF02 for the very first time on Sunday morning and emerged with a very promising fifth-place finish.
Efrain Olivares Jr., an editor with RACER magazine, finished as the best Pinto-powered entrant on both days with his Arquitaller Inc. Van Diemen RF96-Ivey/Pinto.
Results from Round 11:
1. Robert Podlesni (Van Diemen RF03); 2. Mike Forest (Mygale SJ04); 3. John Lombardo Jr. (Van Diemen RF02); 4. Greg Minium (Mygale SJ05); 5. Chris Hundley (Van Diemen RF05); 6. Fiorenzo Tirinnanzi (Van Diemen RF03); 7. Bob Negron (Van Diemen RF99); 8. Peter Hastrup (Van Diemen RF02); 9. Peter Hansel (Van Diemen RF02); 10. Shaun Modisette (Van Diemen RF02); 11. Efrain Olivares Jr. (Van Diemen RF97-Ivey/Pinto); 12. Dennis Goughary (Carbir DS3-Elite/Pinto); 13. Al Salvo (Mygale SJ04), -5 laps, not running; 14. Tim Harris (Mygale SJ05), -7 laps, not running; 15. Les Phillips (Mygale SJ05), -11 laps, not running; 16. J.R. Hildebrand (Mygale SJ04), -14 laps, accident.
Winner's race time: 14 laps (40.796 miles) in 38 minutes 18.132 seconds
Winner's average speed: 71.359 mph
Margin of victory: 5.121 seconds
Fastest qualifier: Podlesni, 1m 46.757s, 98.264 mph
Fastest race lap: Podlesni, 1m 47.271s, 97.793 mph
Results from Round 12:
1. Podlesni; 2. Lombardo Jr.; 3. Hundley; 4. Harris; 5. Travis Irving (Van Diemen RF02); 6. Forest; 7. Phillips; 8. Negron; 9. Salvo; 10. Olivares; 11. Goughary; 12. Modisette, -1 lap; 13. Hildebrand, -5 laps, engine; 14. Hastrup, -5 laps, not running; 15. Minium, -8 laps, not running; DQ Tirinnanzi.
Winner's race time: 15 laps (43.710 miles) in 27 minutes 02.288 seconds
Winner's average speed: 96.996 mph
Margin of victory: 16.346 seconds
Fastest qualifier: Podlesni, 1m 46.894s, 98.138 mph
Fastest race lap: Podlesni, 1m 46.941s, 98.095 mph
Final championship positions (after 12 of 12 races): 1. Forest, 190; 2. Hildebrand, 172; 3. Podlesni, 136; 4. Lombardo, 121; 5. Harris, 84; 6. Negron, 49; 7. Hundley, 47; 8. Scott Foutch (Van Diemen RF03), 44; 9. Brad Jaeger (Mygale SJ04), 43; 10. Ian Lacy (Van Diemen RF03), 42; etc.