Intense Three-Way Battle for Second Place Highlights Las Vegas Season Finale
Buttonwillow, Calif. (October 10, 2007) -- While talented young Californian Patrick Barrett clinched the Pacific F2000 Championship Presented by Hankook crown with a pair of dominant victories recently at Infineon Raceway, the battle for second place is still finely poised. Three drivers are separated by a scant two points going into this weekend's final two races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Jeff Westphal, from San Carlos, Calif., leapfrogged from fourth to second in the standings by virtue of a pair of podium finishes at Infineon. Thomas Merrill, from Salinas, Calif., and Chris Spreitzer, from Phoenix, Ariz., are currently tied on points just two markers behind.
Westphal and Merrill also will battle it out for Rookie of the Year honors. Mitchell Cunningham, from Auckland, New Zealand, and impressive Masters contender (aged 51 or older) Chuck Hulse, from Yorba Linda, Calif., also have an outside shot at the rookie title.
"I definitely want to claim second and Rookie of the Year honors -- that would be huge for me -- so it means I'll be pushing 120 percent rather than 110 percent," said Westphal, who has scored five podium finishes this season with the #39 Team G.FRO/MCGC/DG Flooring Van Diemen but is still seeking his maiden victory. "I think we've been capable of winning in one or two races but we've had some unfortunate luck. I would love to roll the momentum over from Infineon. We've made some improvements the last few races and I think we're on the right track. We have a couple more things we want to try and hopefully that will be the hammer on the head of the nail!"
Fellow 21-year-old Merrill also has claimed five podium finishes with his #81 Merrill Farms LLC/The Don Chapin Company/Ron Sutton's Winner's Circle Van Diemen. Merrill scored his first win in fine style at Miller Motorsports Park in July, beating PR1 Motorsports teammate Barrett fair and square, and is looking forward to his first experience of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway road course.
"I've heard the track is quite technical and very good fun, so I'm looking forward to finding out for myself," said Merrill, who has his sights set firmly on clinching the top rookie award. "That's definitely my goal but I know it's going to be tough. Jeff has come back strong [after a mid-season dip in his results] and Chris is always fast."
Spreitzer has more experience than his two main rivals, having finished fourth in the 2006 Pacific F2000 standings for preparation expert Bill Wilson's team, and is looking to rebound from a string of mediocre results after starting the year as a strong championship contender.
"We've been battling a few handling issues with the car and we're trying to get those worked out and hopefully get up on the podium again," said Spreitzer, 20, who has one race win to his credit this year in the #7 BWM Engineering Van Diemen. Spreitzer also claimed a pair of fourth-place finishes at this same venue in '06. "Las Vegas is kind of like a go-kart track and I have quite a bit of experience in karts, so I think we should be OK."
All eyes will doubtless be focused on the battle for second in the championship, but the top protagonists can expect no favors from Barrett, who has won seven times this year with the PR1 Motorsports team's #3 Jim Russell Racing School/Alpinestars Van Diemen.
"I really want to perform well this weekend," declared Barrett, 18, from Los Osos, Calif. "Everyone involved with PR1 Motorsports has given me everything I've needed to win the championship, and I would like nothing more than to end the season on a high with this team."
F2000 represents one of the first rungs on the professional open-wheel auto racing ladder in North America and has provided the launching pad for the careers of many top racers, including Champ Car World Series champions Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy, and Indianapolis 500 winners Buddy Rice, Dan Wheldon and Sam Hornish Jr.
The action will comprise a qualifying session and a 30-minute race on both Saturday and Sunday as part of VARA's Jeff Saltman Memorial Race weekend.