Talented Teenagers Tops in See Ya Motorhomes Pacific F2000 Opener
Fontana, Calif., February 16, 2004 -- Daytona International Speedway wasn't the only race track in action on the Valentine's Day weekend. Over on the West Coast, the opening round of the fledgling See Ya Motorhomes Pacific F2000 Series at California Speedway -- held as part of VARA's Route 66 Classic Road Races -- saw a pair of gifted teenagers sharing the victory spoils.
Saturday's 17-lap race around the 2.5-mile oval/road course saw 15-year-old Joel Miller score a runaway triumph in Bobby Oergel's PR1 Motosports Van Diemen RF02, while on Sunday it was the turn of 17-year-old teammate Wade Van Hooser to turn an identical trick.
The brand-new series, put together by Buttonwillow Raceway Park manager Les Phillips and fellow long-time club racer Johnnie Crean, attracted a solid entry of 22 cars comprising a mixture of the latest Quicksilver/Zetec-engined Van Diemens and older Ford Pinto sohc-powered Formula Continentals. The extra pace of the newer cars was neutralized by the addition of a restrictor plate and a slight remapping of the electronic ignition system, and while the PR1 youngsters proved a dominant force, there were plenty of exciting battles in their wake.
The first race saw Miller, from Hesperia, Calif., in his very first car race, jump into the lead from the pole and quickly establish an advantage over a dicing Van Hooser (also in his very first car race) and fellow former karting ace Jason Bowles.
"I did what I wanted to do on the first lap," said Miller. "When I saw them passing each other, I knew that was my chance to get away, so I really had to lay it down there."
Lay it down he surely did. Miller, driving the same car with which fellow Californian Jonathan Bomarito won last year's U.S. Formula Ford 2000 Zetec Championship, posted a fastest lap more than 0.7s faster than he qualified as he stretched out his margin to 4.802s at the checkered flag.
"It was awesome," said Miller (predictably). "I only had one scare when a lapped car locked up right in front of me in Turn Three on the last lap, but other than that, it was a really fun race."
There were a host of other battles going on behind, including a great scrap between Van Hooser and Bowles that extended all the way to the finish. The pair exchanged positions several times, including twice on the last lap as Van Hooser briefly regained the advantage, by outbraking his rival into Turn Three (the left-hander coming off the banking), only to lose it again when he fluffed a gear change.
"Lots of fun," summarized Bowles, 21, from nearby Ontario, Calif., who was running yet another PR1 Van Diemen on his own. "It was a good battle. It was just like being in a go-kart. Last year Wade and I were dicing like this in karts, and now we're doing the same in cars. It's fun."
"It was a pretty good race," said a slightly more muted Van Hooser. "I just missed a shift coming off the corner and it cost me second.."
Some distance back, young Canadian Mike Forest (PR1 Van Diemen) passed John Lombardo's similar ex-Bill Fickling car to claim fourth, while Lombardo was chased home by a fast-closing RACER Senior Editor Jeremy Shaw, who, after starting ninth, passed Mark Peller and Brad Jaeger in the closing stages after an entertaining race-long tussle.
Peller (Van Diemen RF01) finished seventh as the first Pinto-engined car home after Phillips spun away an early advantage.
Race two on Sunday saw Van Hooser gain the upper hand as he converted pole into an immediate lead and never looked back. He also set a startling new lap record with his ex-Charlie Kimball Van Diemen.
"Yesterday I had a bit of an understeer problem, which was affecting me off the turns," related Van Hooser. "So we made a change and it helped me a lot today.
"It was only my second [car race] start, so I tried to find a spot to nail it [the throttle], and I did that -- kind of like Joel did to me yesterday."
Once again, the leader was aided by the fact that the second- and third-place cars were involved in an early scrap.
"Joel and Jason started battling a bit and that helped," said Van Hooser, who romped clear to win by 5.466s. He also set a stunning new lap record at 1m39.907s (90.084mph).
"It's one of the best feelings I've ever had. It definitely makes up for the third [-place finish] yesterday."
Miller was able to break free of Bowles after an early scrap, but Van Hooser already was out in the clear, so the Saturday winner trailed home a lonely second, thereby maintaining his early championship lead.
"Wade got away from me and the draft was broken, so it was hard to catch him. My first race weekend, a first and second -- not too bad," concluded Miller.
The top six cars were all strung out by the finish after a somewhat processional race, with Bowles taking third ahead of Jaeger, Forest, who charged up from 10th on the grid, and veteran Peter Hastrup, who made up for a spin in Saturday's race by finishing a solid sixth.
"It makes the trip home a little more bearable," said Hastrup, from Fresno,Calif., with a grin.
The lanky Peller once again was the best-placed Pinto car, seventh, but only after another protracted battle with Shaw, who made a poor start from seventh, was involved in a couple of early incidents and spent the remainder of the race battling with inconsistent handling brought on by a broken front wing and a tweaked right-rear wishbone.
Lombardo and Phillips had been running just ahead of this battle before colliding at Turn Three on lap 11 and ending their hopes of another top-10 finish.
"I got a good run and thought we could go wheel to wheel, but he went for the apex also," said Lombardo. "It's a shame but just one of those things.
"I have to say, though, that I thought the [Zetec and Pinto] cars were very well matched. I was impressed by how [the organizers] managed to hit it just right the first weekend. This is going to be a great series."
Race 1: 1. Joel Miller (Van Diemen RF02 Zetec), 17 laps, 28m44.500s, 88.721mph; 2. Jason Bowles (Van Diemen RF03 Zetec), +4.802s; 3. Wade Van Hooser (Van Diemen RF02 Zetec); 4. Mike Forest (Van Diemen RF03 Zetec); 5. John Lombardo (Van Diemen RF03 Zetec); 6. Jeremy Shaw (Van Diemen RF03 Zetec); 7. Mark Peller (Van Diemen RF01 Pinto); 8. Brad Jaeger (Van Diemen RF02 Zetec); 9. Les Phillips (Van Diemen RF01 Pinto); 10. Scott Foutch (Van Diemen RF03 Zetec); 11. Peter Hastrup (Van Diemen RF03 Zetec); 12. Peter West (Van Diemen RF01 Zetec); 13. Greg Minium (Swift DB-3 Pinto); 14. Carl Scott (Van Diemen RF96 Pinto); 15. Douglas Da Costa (Van Diemen RF01 Pinto); 16. Nick Kodenko Van Diemen Pinto); 17. Al Karns (Van Diemen RF96 Pinto); 18, Dennis Goughary (Carbir Pinto), not running; 19. Fiorenzo Tirinnanzi (Van Diemen RF03 Zetec), not running; DNS Tom Hope (Van Diemen Pinto); Johnnie Crean (Carbir Pinto); Ira Fierberg (Van Diemen RF01 Zetec). Fastest lap: Miller, 1m40.163s, 89.854mph (establishes record).
Race 2: 1. Van Hooser, 17 laps, 28m36.026s, 89.159mph; 2. Miller, +5.466s; 3. Bowles; 4. Jaeger; 5. Forest; 6. Hastrup; 7. Peller; 8. Shaw; 9. Fierberg; 10. Foutch; 11. West; 12. Scott; 13. Da Costa; 14. Kodenko; 15. Phillips, not running; 16. Lombardo, not running; 17. Tirinnanzi, not running; DNS Hope; Minium; Goughary; Karns; Crean. Fastest lap: Van Hooser, 1m39.907s, 90.084mph (record).
See Ya Motorhomes Pacific F2000 Series points, after two of 12 races: 1. Miller, 41; 2. Van Hooser, 40; 3. Bowles, 37; 4. Forest, 33; 5. Jaeger, 30; 6. Shaw & Peller, 28; 8. Hastrup, 25; 9. Foutch, 22; 10. West, 19; 11. Lombardo & Scott, 16; 13. Da Costa, 14; 15. Phillips, Fierberg & Kodenko, 12; 18. Karns, 4.
Next rounds: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, March 13/14.