Hildebrand Claims Impressive Double Victory at Road Atlanta
Braselton, Ga. (May 14, 2006) -- J.R. Hildebrand earned a brace of victories on Saturday, outpacing 27 other competitors when the 2006 Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 Championship kicked off in style at Road Atlanta.
Cape Motorsports teammate and fellow Californian teenager Dane Cameron took second in both 30-minute races. Venezuelan Ricardo Vassmer and Englishman Dominik Jackson each claimed one podium finish.
Gerry Kraut, from North Oaks, Minn., was the best-placed Cooper Masters finisher (for drivers over 35 years of age), taking sixth overall in the first race with the #5 Daugherty & Co./JDC Motorsports Van Diemen. Jason Byers, from Livonia, Mich., took the honors in Race Two, also placing sixth overall in the #28 A&B Refrigeration/St. Clair Motorsports Van Diemen.
Another talented teenager, Cole Morgan, from Lighthouse Point, Fla., dominated the Cooper Gold Cup category (for older Pinto-engined cars), scooping a pair of victories in the venerable #11 Morgan Homes/Lee Racing/10-Tenths Motorsports Swift DB-6.
Cameron, from Sonoma, Calif., was the first to make his mark in an extremely competitive field. The 17-year-old high school student capped an enthralling qualifying session, during which the top half-dozen drivers had traded fastest times on a regular basis, by snaring the coveted pole position -- and a valuable championship point -- aboard the #19 Finlay Motorsports/Jim Russell Racing School/Red Line Oil Van Diemen. Vassmer, from Caracas, Venezuela, was second fastest in the #25 Comprent Motorsports Van Diemen, while Hildebrand, from Sausalito, Calif., had to be content with third on the grid in the #2 Formotion/Spy Optics/Mockett.com Van Diemen.
Hildebrand, 18, who had been fastest during most of the preseason tests, moved up to second place immediately after the start of the opening race, then deposed Cameron from the lead at the beginning of the second lap. He opened up a useful gap in the early stages, before clipping a curb heavily in Turn Three and falling back into the clutches of Cameron. Unfortunately for Cameron, the race finished under caution when Chuck Lessick crashed his #58 ZAT Graphics/ZAT Racing Van Diemen. Lessick, from Sheridan, Ill., was not injured.
"I think we would have had a good battle with J.R. but I was really happy with second," said Cameron.
Vassmer, the 2005 Cooper Gold Cup champion, finished third ahead of Andy Knight (#33 NAPA/G.FRO Van Diemen), from Christchurch, New Zealand, and Potomac, Md.'s Chris Meredith (#3 MII Security/Bertil Roos Racing School/Primus Racing Van Diemen).
Light rain began to fall just before the second 30-minute contest, but all of the front-runners elected to stay on slick, dry-weather Cooper Zeon tires.
Hildebrand, who had taken the pole by virtue of posting the fastest lap in Race One, took off into the lead on a treacherous track and remained out in front, although he never was able to pull out much of a lead.
"Coming into a new series with a new team, I really wanted to start things off with a bang and I think I pretty much accomplished that," related Hildebrand, who finished second in last year's Pacific F2000 Championship.
Cameron and Vassmer battled mightily for second before Vassmer made a mistake and spun in Turn Three. Cameron continued his impressive Cooper Series debut, keeping the pressure on Hildebrand and being rewarded with another second-place finish.
Jackson also posted a fine performance, bouncing back from a massive crash during testing on Thursday and posting the fastest race lap in Race Two -- despite handling difficulties and a down-on-power engine -- as he rose from ninth on the grid to third in a backup #34 NAPA/Valvoline/Denso/G.FRO Van Diemen.
"Considering all the problems we had, I'm pretty happy with third," said Jackson, "but for sure there's a lot more to come."