NA-F2000: VIR season finale preview

Champion Jay Howard Faces Stiff Opposition at Cooper Series F2000 Finale St. Petersburg, Fla. (October 5, 2005) -- Jay Howard already has an unassailable lead in the 2005 Cooper Tires Championship Series for Formula Ford 2000 cars, but the ...

Champion Jay Howard Faces Stiff Opposition at Cooper Series F2000 Finale

St. Petersburg, Fla. (October 5, 2005) -- Jay Howard already has an unassailable lead in the 2005 Cooper Tires Championship Series for Formula Ford 2000 cars, but the talented Englishman is looking forward to facing perhaps his strongest challenge of the year as the season concludes with a pair of races in support of this weekend's Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series VIR 400 at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Va.

In addition to all his regular rivals, which will include fellow Briton Joey Foster, who has won two of the last four races in Cape Motorsports' #3 Bradfords/BRDC/Keenpine/Woodpecker Pine Van Diemen RF01, Howard also will have to contend with a trio of extremely promising West Coast-based teenagers: J.R. Hildebrand, Robert Podlesni and Alan Sciuto.

Hildebrand, 17, from Sausalito, Calif., won the 2004 Formula Russell Championship and recently clinched top rookie honors and second place overall in this year's Pacific F2000 Championship. Hildebrand already has made his mark in the East Coast-based Cooper Series, finishing second and third in a one-off outing for PR1 Motorsports in the two events supporting the Champ Car World Series at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio, in June. This weekend he will drive for the San Clemente, Calif.-based P-1 Racing team.

Sciuto, also 17, will drive another of P-1 Racing's Napa Auto Parts/Denso/Pro Series Starters and Alternators Van Diemens. Sciuto, from Orange, Calif., carved an enviable reputation in karting, winning the 2004 Stars of Karting crown in the 125cc shifter category. He achieved some success in the Barber Dodge National Championship and the Star Mazda Series earlier this year, then caused quite a stir when he qualified on pole for just his second Toyota Atlantic race on the streets of Denver.

Podlesni, meanwhile, proved to be a dominant force in the concluding rounds of the hard-fought Pacific F2000 Championship, claiming four poles and three wins from the final three races. Podlesni, also 17 from Thousand Oaks, Calif., will drive his regular #84 Prudential California/Dave Freitas Racing Van Diemen at VIR and will be looking to gain valuable experience in his first foray at the national series level.

All three contenders have Howard firmly in their sights, but the 24-year-old is ready for the challenge.

"It's a really nice feeling to be the champion," says Howard, "and I'm excited about carrying the #1 on my car for this final weekend. Hopefully, I can wrap up the year with another two wins against a bit more opposition and really push the point home.

"It's been an amazing year," continues Howard, who has won eight of the 10 races thus far in the Aiken Racing Van Diemen RF03, and further demonstrated his skills by scoring a dominant victory recently on his debut in the Star Mazda Championship at Mosport International Raceway in Canada.

"I can't believe how much publicity there has been and what it's done for my career. I've raced and won [previously] in Formula Ford and Formula Renault in England, but this has really, really relaunched my career. It's looking quite likely that I'll be able to move into the Champ Car Atlantic Series for next year, which has been my goal all along.

"It's interesting, because a few people told me at the beginning of the year that F2000 doesn't lead anywhere, so it's been great to prove them wrong. I'm so grateful for everything this series has done for me."

The Cooper Series is sanctioned by the Grand American Road Racing Association and represents one of the first rungs on the professional open-wheel auto racing ladder in North America.

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.

Race #1 will take place Sunday at 11:00 AM, with the green flag for Race #2 set for 4:15 PM.

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