New Cars, Drivers, Tires & Money Mark Barber Dodge Opener

LAKEVILLE, Conn. (Mar. 13) - The most competitive season yet is expected in this year's Barber Dodge Pro Series, as pre-season competitor testing concluded this past week and the 30 entered drivers prepare for Round 1 at Sebring International Raceway, sup porting the Exxon Superflo 12 Hours of Sebring Presented by Chrysler Corporation.

The beginning of the championship's 13th year brings a lot of new and different aspects to this leading equal-car series. It marks the debut of the all-new carbon-composite Reynard Dodge chassis; there are new tires, as racing radials from Michelin, which has re-entered the open-wheel wars after a few years' absence, are now the spec tires; a different sanctioning body (Sports Car); a 30 percent increase in prize money (the total prize money and awards purse for the year will exceed $1,000,000); and most important, the most deeply talented field of young driving talent the series has seen. One driving coach with vast experience in Barber Dodge, who was at every test day in February said, "I saw at least 20 guys easily capable of making the podium thi s year." Under varying conditions over the past month, ultimately 17 drivers lapped Sebring's test circuit within a second of each other, the fastest being Giovanni Anapoli and Martin Stenshorne.

Early favorites are a mix of frontrunning returnees, such as Nicolas Rondet, the 1997 Rookie of the Year, Rocky Moran, Jr., Stenshorne, and 1996 championship runner-up Thomas Schie, and series first-timers Annapoli, Owen McAuley, Sepp Koster and this year's "Big Scholarship" driver, Shane Donley. Series Manager Steve Sewell says, "At this point, you can throw a blanket over the whole lot. But nobody's had the benefit of running the Full Course yet; there's going to be a lot of shock and wing experime ntation in practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday."

Round 1 of the 1998 Barber Dodge Pro Series green flags at 8:45 a.m., Saturday March 21, just before the start of the 12 Hour. There are four scheduled espn2 telecasts of the Sebring Barber Dodge race scheduled, with the first airing Sunday, April 5 at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.