CAMIRAND TAKES FLAG-TO-FLAG PHOENIX F2000 VICTORY
PHOENIX, Ariz. (March 26, 1999) -- Canadian Marc-Antoine Camirand led flag-to-flag to take his first-career victory in the opening round of the U.S. F2000 National Championship Presented by Speedvision at Phoenix International Raceway, beating Dan Wheldon, of England, by 4.345 seconds. Steve Rikert, of Rhinebeck, N.Y., finished third.
Camirand, of Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Can., started from the pole in the No. 96 Key Motorsports Van Diemen Ford and jumped into the lead of the 33-car field and never looked back, averaging a record 83.589 mph for the 35-minute, 53.371-second, 50-lap, 50.0-mile race. Camirand had previously recorded two poles in 1998, when he won the Rookie of the Year title.
"Both times I won the pole position last year, I crashed, so I'm very happy to now get my first win," said Camirand, 19. "I had a very badly blistered right front tire due to the long green session at the end of the race, so I had to really back off in the first two turns at the end."
The race was slowed by two cautions, occupying 16 of the first 18 laps. No drivers were injured in any of the incidents.
Wheldon, driving the No. 5 Primus Racing Karts Van Diemen Ford, started third and moved around second qualifier Rolando Quintanilla in turn one, but could not stay close enough to Camirand to attempt a pass. This was his first start in the United States and on an oval.
"My car worked very well both high and low on the track, but I've got to give Quintanilla credit for giving me racing room at the start," said Wheldon, 20. "I think I could have mounted a charge on Marc, but he got a good gap on me at the last restart. Racing in America is very different from England, the teams here are very professional and competitive."
Rikert started seventh in the No. 4 Richard Morgan Racing Van Diemen Ford, and was helped by a lap-23 spin by Quintanilla, allowing him to move around several cars. This was Rikert's career-best finish.
"When (Quintanilla) spun, he went high and continued, I went low and Larry Foyt checked up a bit allowing me to get by," said Rikert. "I knew we were better than our qualifying effort, and I'm glad to be on the podium at the start of the season and get these points for the Championship."
Foyt, of Houston, Texas, came home fourth for his best finish, followed by second-generation driver Mark Dismore, of Greenfield, Ind. Ennis Bragg, of Swainsboro, Ga., finished first in the "B" category for older cars. Quintanilla recovered from his spin to finish eighth, setting the track lap record of 27.683 seconds (130.044 mph) in the process.