NA-F2000: West Coast drivers VIR summary

West Coast Drivers Shine in Wet Cooper Series (East Coast) F2000 Finale Alton, Va. (October 10, 2005) The East Coast-based Cooper Tires Championship Series for Formula Ford 2000 cars concluded this past weekend at VIRginia International ...

West Coast Drivers Shine in Wet Cooper Series (East Coast) F2000 Finale

Alton, Va. (October 10, 2005) The East Coast-based Cooper Tires Championship Series for Formula Ford 2000 cars concluded this past weekend at VIRginia International Raceway, with a trio of talented, 17-year-old Californians vying for center stage along with already-crowned Cooper Series Champion Jay Howard.

Alan Sciuto, from Orange, made a sensational F2000 debut for San Clemente-based P-1 Racing, claiming a victory and a second-place finish in the two races held on Sunday, October 9, while regular Pacific F2000 Championship front-runners Robert Podlesni, from Thousand Oaks, and J.R. Hildebrand, from Sausalito, secured a podium finish apiece.

A half-day of testing on Thursday and both official practice sessions Friday were held in wet conditions (aside from the first two laps on Friday afternoon), and the West Coast interlopers immediately made an impression on the fast and extremely challenging 3.27-mile road course set amid the south Virginia hills.

Sciuto, a former shifter kart star who had competed successfully earlier this year in the Formula Dodge National Championship Presented by RACER, the Star Mazda Series and the Champ Car Toyota Atlantic Championship, and Hildebrand, who finished second in the Pacific F2000 Championship, driving a Mygale for Bobby Oergel's PR1 Motorsports team, quickly got to grips with their P-1 Racing Napa Auto Parts/Denso/Pro Series Starters & Alternators Van Diemens.

Both youngsters had precious little wet weather experience to their credit, and Hildebrand had never before driven a Zetec-powered Van Diemen chassis, but the pair adapted impressively to set the second- and third-fastest times among the 22-car field. They were bested only by Howard, who had won eight of the 10 previous East Coast races this year with his Aiken Racing Van Diemen and also had driven extensively in the rain in his native England.

Podlesni took a little longer to get used to the treacherous conditions with Dave Freitas Racing's #84 Prudential California Van Diemen RF03, but his time would come.

Conditions improved slightly on Saturday afternoon, only for the heavens to open once again just before the drivers ventured out for their one and only qualifying session. The teams scrambled to change their cars' setups to match the slippery conditions, and while Howard once again set the pace with a lap at 2m09.092s, Sciuto ended up merely 0.275 seconds slower to assure himself of second place on the starting grid. Joey Foster, another rapid Englishman with plenty of wet weather experience, set the third-fastest time ahead of "Poodles" Podlesni, who posted a huge improvement, and Hildebrand, who rounded out the top five despite a slight miscommunication with the team regarding his car's setup.

Race One on Sunday was held in damp conditions, and when the two Brits, Howard and Foster, eliminated each other on the opening lap, Sciuto took full advantage and led the rest of the way.

"I'm a little bummed out that they crashed because I think it would've been a pretty good race between me, Joey and Jay. I think we had a good enough car to race with them," reckoned Sciuto.

Hildebrand shadowed his P-1 teammate for the first five laps before being pushed off the road while attempting to pass some slower cars that were already being lapped.

Podlesni, meanwhile, continued his steep learning curve by finishing a strong second, despite a balky gearbox.

"It was kind of a crazy race," said Podlesni, "but I learned a lot and I'm pleased with the result."

Race Two was held later in the afternoon, and finally the competitors were able to run on a dry track for the very first time.

Sciuto started from the pole by virtue of setting the fastest lap of the race in the earlier encounter, with Podlesni in fourth, Hildebrand 10th and Howard 20th.

Anxious to end his impressive season on a high note, Howard blistered through the field to take the lead before the completion of Lap 3. Sciuto chased gamely but was unable to respond. Under the circumstances, he was content to finish second.

"I just needed another dry session to get more used to the car," said Sciuto. "It's hard when you go out for your first dry session and it's in the race. But it was a good race and a good weekend."

Hildebrand was equally pleased to bounce back from his earlier incident, despite another scare when a hard- charging Foster clattered over his right-rear wheel while trying to make a pass at Oak Tree Corner. This time, fortunately, his car was largely unscathed. Hildebrand lost a couple of places but quickly claimed them back, then overtook early race leader Christopher Guerrieri for third place when the former Canadian Formula Ford champion made a mistake in Turn One.

"That was a fun race," said Hildebrand, who had vaulted from 10th to fifth on the opening lap. "A bunch of cars were all stacked up in Turn One on the inside, so I drove around the outside.

"You're never happy with a third place," continued Hildebrand, "but it was a great learning experience and I'm really pleased to come away with a podium."

Podlesni also drove well again, running confidently in fourth place until his gearbox again began causing difficulties and he wisely pulled into the pits to prevent any further damage.

-jeremy shaw-

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