Vassmer Finishes Third In FF2000 Championship
ELKHART LAKE, Wis., Sept. 24 - Finishing the 2006 NASA Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 season in fine style, Ricardo Vassmer got on the podium Saturday and finished fifth on Sunday at Road America to place third in the national championship and second in the series' Greg Moore Rookie of the Year point standings for the 14-race season.
Racing in the rain for the first time, Vassmer, of Caracas, Venezuela and Coral Springs, Fla., finished third in Saturday's nine-lap race behind Dane Cameron and Steve Welk. It was the 22-year-old driver's sixth podium finish of the year in the JDC Motorsports No. 25, which is sponsored by Zoom, a top courier service; Meridiano Television and Santa Barbara Airlines.
On Sunday he finished fifth behind series champion J.R. Hildebrand, Jason Byers, Steve Welk and Noah Bystrom. That was his eighth-straight top-five finish in a streak that began at the season's mid-point in Cleveland in June, and tenth top-five finish for the year.
The rain was steady at the start of the Saturday's race and progressively got heavier. Vassmer hadn't been able to get a clear lap in during qualifying on Friday so he started sixth in the 30-car field.
Fourth-place starter Pat Barrett got off course on lap one to push Vassmer to fifth. He jumped to third on lap three when he passed Byers and Hildebrand got off course temporarily. Chris Meredith got around Vassmer on the next lap to push him back to fourth, but then Meredith's throttle stuck and Vassmer found himself back in third with five laps down. A full-course yellow waved on lap seven and the event was called complete with nine laps down due to the half-hour time limit and numerous cars off course in the heavy rain.
"That was my first real race ever in the rain, and I just couldn't see anything," Vassmer said afterwards. "I didn't expect the visibility to be so bad.
"My car was pushing a lot, and I lost a lot of time trying to pass Byers," he added. "I went off on the dirt once in Canada Corner but I didn't have any mistakes really, which was lucky considering how hard it was to see."
The starting line-up for Sunday's 12-lap race was determined by the fastest race laps each driver posted during Saturday's race. That put Vassmer sixth on the grid but he actually got to start fifth when Hildebrand went from the pole to tenth as a penalty for passing some cars under yellow on Saturday.
The start didn't go as well as Vassmer wanted it to on Sunday, as he slipped to eighth by the end of lap one due to some of his rivals' blocking techniques. He dropped two more spots to tenth with two laps down, but then he started to go in the right direction on lap three when he got around Gerry Kraut for ninth.
Cameron ran into problems on lap four while in second and Vassmer finally got by Philip Metzger on that lap to vault into seventh place. He stayed in seventh until he got fifth with 10 laps down when Barrett fell from third and Vassmer got by Meredith. Only two more circuits of the 4.048-mile road course remained in the contest, and he took the checkered in fifth.
"I got a good start initially but then I had to go to the inside so I wouldn't hit Steve Welk when he closed the door on me," Vassmer recalled later. "Then Philip Metzger was zigzagging all the way around the track. I don't know what he was thinking, but every time I tried to pass him, he chopped me. Noah [Bystrom], Slade [Miller] and Gerry [Kraut] all passed me because he was holding me up.
"I dropped to tenth place once because of Metzger. I knew I had to finish no more than two spots behind [Jason] Byers to remain third in the point standings, but when I was in tenth place I was saying, 'This is not what I planned. This was supposed to be an easy race.'
"I finally got around Metzger, and then Noah [Bystrom] and I were running about the same pace," Vassmer continued. "We passed Meredith a little later. Byers got second and I got fifth in the race and third in the points, so I'm happy. My car was pushing a little but it wasn't as bad as it was yesterday. I got off in the grass off Turn Five two times today, but nothing bad.
"Since Cleveland I've never been out of the top five, so that's good," he added. "I want to thank everyone at JDC Motorsports for all their hard work this year, and congratulate Cape Motorsports, J.R. Hildebrand and Dane Cameron too."
The Road America races supported a Champ Car World Series headliner.
For more information see ricardovassmer.com and cooperseries.com.
-credit: restart communications