NA-F2000: Pacific season finale preview

Pacific F2000 Championship to be Decided This Weekend at Buttonwillow Buttonwillow, Calif. (September 20, 2005) -- A meager four points separate title protagonists J.R. Hildebrand and Mike Forest as the Pacific F2000 Championship Presented by ...

Pacific F2000 Championship to be Decided This Weekend at Buttonwillow

Buttonwillow, Calif. (September 20, 2005) -- A meager four points separate title protagonists J.R. Hildebrand and Mike Forest as the Pacific F2000 Championship Presented by Mickey Thompson Tires/Cooper Tire reaches its climax this weekend at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in California's Central Valley. The final outcome will be decided following a pair of 30-minute races to be held in conjunction with the Vintage Auto Racing Association's Oktoberfest Road Races.

With 20 points on offer each day to the race winner, plus a pair of bonus points apiece for posting the fastest lap in qualifying and the fastest race lap, the possible permutations for the two rivals -- who drive for the same Fresno-based PR1 Motorsports team -- are virtually endless.

"I'm trying to prepare myself mentally for whatever circumstances might arise," says Hildebrand, from Sausalito, Calif., whose admirable consistency with the #66 Jim Russell Racing School/Spy Optic Mygale SJ04 -- which includes two wins and a total of nine podium finishes from 10 races -- has enabled the gifted rookie to turn a 22-point early-season deficit into a narrow advantage, 170-166, with just two races remaining.

"It's the first time I've gone into a weekend leading the championship, and it's not, by any means, imperative to actually win," notes the 17-year-old high school senior. "Obviously, that would help secure things, but my focus now, especially going into Saturday, is to gain as much of an advantage over Mike as I can."

Forest, meanwhile, is treating the weekend like any other.

"The plan is the same as always," declares Forest, 24, a recent college graduate from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, who has four race wins to his credit this year in the #8 Dynacor/Miracle Sealants/Earth Water Mygale SJ04. "We always try to show up with our A-game and do the best we can.

"It's entirely fitting that the championship will be won by whoever has the best weekend [at Buttonwillow]," Forest continues. "J.R. and I have been very closely matched all season long. It's a matter of not making mistakes and making perfect laps. I'm ready."

A season-ending prize fund of more than $20,000 will be distributed after the finale, and while Hildebrand and Forest hold center stage, there is a similarly close tussle over third place in the standings between veteran John Lombardo Jr., from Brea, Calif., and another talented youngster, Robert Podlesni, from Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Honors were split between these two in the most recent pair of races earlier this month (also at Buttonwillow, albeit on an entirely different track configuration), with Podlesni scoring a well-deserved maiden victory both for himself and stalwart F2000 entrant Dave Freitas on Saturday and Lombardo taking the checkered flag Sunday.

The 2.914-mile road course will be run in the opposite direction this weekend, ensuring a fresh challenge for the teams and drivers, but both Van Diemen proponents are confident of achieving additional success.

"Now that I can taste third place in the championship, I'll be doing everything I can to keep it," says Lombardo, whose victory in the #30 NAPA Auto Parts/Valvoline/Denso/P-1 Racing Van Diemen RF02 catapulted him ahead of Podlesni in the standings, albeit by a paltry three-point margin. "Buttonwillow seems to be a track that suits our Van Diemen so I'm really looking forward to getting back out there."

Rookie Podlesni, who was the fastest qualifier for both races earlier this month, is similarly upbeat: "We're not in the hunt for the points title but I'm looking forward to finishing the year as good as we can and building some momentum as we get ready for next season."

Saturday's Round 11 of the Pacific F2000 Championship will comprise a qualifying session at 10:05 am, followed by the race at 2:45 pm. The grid for Sunday's finale will be set in qualifying at 10:25, with the green flag for the championship decider slated for 3:00 pm.

-js-

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