NA-F2000: Road Atlanta preview

2006 Cooper Tires FF2000 Championship Season Kicks Off This Weekend in Georgia Palmetto, Fla. (May 9, 2006) -- A strong field of 30 cars is expected to provide some thrilling entertainment when the 2006 Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000...

2006 Cooper Tires FF2000 Championship Season Kicks Off This Weekend in Georgia

Palmetto, Fla. (May 9, 2006) -- A strong field of 30 cars is expected to provide some thrilling entertainment when the 2006 Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 Championship begins this weekend with a pair of 30-minute races at the challenging 2.54-mile Road Atlanta road course in Braselton, Ga.

The success of 2005 season graduates Jay Howard, who is currently placed a close second in the Indy Pro Series, and Joey Foster, who is now leading the German Recaro Formula 3 Cup point standings in Europe, has resulted in a bumper crop of talented young drivers seeking to follow in their footsteps.

Florida-based Cape Motorsports has won FF2000 championships in each of the three most recent even-numbered years (Aaron Justus in 2000, Bryan Sellers in '02 and Bobby Wilson in '04), and seems well-placed to continue that streak in 2006 after signing three sure-fire front-runners in J.R. Hildebrand, Dane Cameron and Chris Meredith.

Hildebrand, 18, from Sausalito, Calif., has acquired some impressive credentials since making his car racing debut in 2004. He won the Jim Russell Racing School's Formula Russell Championship in his rookie season, and last year finished a close second in the Pacific F2000 Championship. Hildebrand also displayed his capabilities in the Cooper Series, claiming three podium finishes in just four starts.

His preparations for this season have begun similarly well, with Hildebrand topping the timing charts -- and even dipping beneath the track record -- in a recent Cooper Tires FF2000 test session at Road Atlanta.

"I will certainly be looking to carry that momentum into this weekend," says Hildebrand. "I've been doing a tremendous amount of work in the off-season to prepare for the next couple of years, and I think it will start paying off very soon. I'm focused and determined to win this year, and have my sights firmly set on the championship."

Fellow California teenager Cameron, from Sonoma, followed in Hildebrand's wake by claiming last year's Formula Russell Championship, while Meredith, from Potomac, Md., placed fifth in the 2005 Cooper Tires FF2000 point standings as a rookie, failing only twice in 12 races to finish among the top 10.

Other young Americans to watch will include Slade Miller, from Edmond, Okla., who preceded Hildebrand in winning one of the prestigious Team USA Scholarship awards in 2004 on the strength of some impressive SCCA Formula Ford results; and Philip Metzger, from Littleton, Colo., who celebrated his 17th birthday 10 days ago by qualifying on the front row for a Pacific F2000 Championship race in California.

Metzger will be joined in a strong West Coast-based G.FRO (Geoff Fickling Racing Operation) team by Englishman Dominik Jackson, who won the opening round of the Pacific F2000 series at Phoenix International Raceway (Ariz.) in February, and equally talented young New Zealander Andy Knight, who has been a leading contender in Formula Ford and Toyota Racing Series competition in his homeland the last couple of years.

More overseas interest will be provided by highly rated Venezuelan Ricardo Vassmer, who dominated last year's Cooper Gold Cup honors and now is stepping up into the premier class with Athens, Ga.-based Comprent Motorsports.

The Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 Championship is sanctioned by the National Auto Sports Association (NASA) and represents one of the first rungs on the professional open-wheel auto racing ladder in North America. It features modern, purpose-built, single-seat race cars powered by either four-cylinder, double-overhead cam, fuel-injected 2.0-liter Ford Zetec engines, which produce around 160 hp, or the older, slightly less powerful, carbureted 2.0-liter Ford "Pinto" engines which will be vying for Cooper Gold Cup honors. All cars employ "slick" (treadless) Cooper Zeon racing tires and are capable of speeds in excess of 140 mph.

Formula Ford 2000 originated in England in 1974. Alumni include Formula 1 World Champions Ayrton Senna and Damon Hill; Champ Car World Series title-winners Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy; Indy Racing League Champion Sam Hornish Jr.; and the past two Indianapolis 500 winners Buddy Rice and Dan Wheldon.

-usff2000

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