Skip Barber’s newest track offering provided a stunning and competitive backdrop to the Formula Dodge Southern Regional racers, running in conjunction with the National Championship finale. Despite the newness, the Michelin-shod Formula Dodge R/T 2000s seemed at home on the steep banks of the hallowed 24-Hour road course, spec’d out at 3.56 miles. Most of the races were extremely tight. In fact, seven of the ten races were won by margins of less than a second. The weekend’s action saw seven different winners including repeat efforts from Chris Guerrieri and defending Southern Regional Champion Craig Duerson.
Group 1 Race 1 exited the pits with Chris Guerrieri on pole, a position he successfully defended from Can Artam over the 12-lap race. The pair volleyed the point over the contest, each leading six laps before Guerrieri clamped down at the front on lap 10 and held it for keeps. Third place starter Artam followed him home in second, ahead of Whitney Bellows in third. Guerrieri turned in the fastest lap of the field with a time of 2:24.929 sec. Robert Pellosie advanced from 13th to finish in the top-5 and earn most progressive driver distinction.
In-stater Gerardo Bonilla led all 12 laps to win group 2 race 1 in wire-to-wire fashion. Bonilla, who set the quickest lap time of 2:13.816 sec., motored to a 9-second margin victory over second place finisher Scott Bassinder. Former Masters champion Chris Willcox came from the back of the pack to earn third place honors, doubling up on the Masters prize and most progressive drive.
In the day’s last race, polesitter Craig Duerson led 10 laps and diced with second year racer David Harris en route to his first win of the weekend in group 4 race 1 action. Harris was enjoying a great race up until the point where he crashed out on turn-5. Desi Sartelli slotted in for second place ahead of Eastern Masters champion Mark Patterson. Patterson drove with inspiration, shunning his 12th place grid start to land on the podium.
Group 5 action carried over to the second day of racing and featured Brazilian hotshoe Christiano Piquet, who claimed the win over rookie sensation Jonatan Jorge and Eduardo Marques. The three represent an all-Brazilian podium. Piquet led the first six laps before Jorge inserted himself on lap seven and later on lap 10. Piquet was then able to reset the order to his favor on lap 11 using the draft effectively on the banking. 19th place starter Dan Boland picked off 14 positions to land a spot in the top-5 and earn most progressive driver honors.
In group 1 revisited, Chris Guerrieri defended his pole position again from a determined Can Artam. Artam led most every lap except for the most important pair near the end when Guerreri was able to slingshot by and capture the checkered flag. Improving racer Eric Walker, thanks to his computer car clinic earlier in the day, finished in third for his first podium. Walker outlasted a gritty effort from challenger Robert Pellosie.
Chris Willcox led the final two laps to take the group 2 race 2 win at the wire over Abraham Zimroth and Scott Bassinder. Bassinder led seven of the 12-lap contest before falling off just shy of the flag. Michael Edwards came from 12th to round out the top-5.
Fourteenth place starter Matt Franc used the draft to full advantage and passed everyone in the field to take the win in group 4 race 2 ahead of Masters racer Peter Stolper and polesitter Desi Sartelli. Sartelli led the first two laps but gave way to pressure from Franc on lap 3. Franc and Stolper then mixed it up over the balance of laps before Franc clamped down on the lead with two laps to go. Duerson, who was slated to start from pole, crashed out in the warm up lap and decided not to race.
Like most of the races, group 5 race 2 was a clinic in closeness as Jonatan Jorge earned a hard-fought victory over previous day’s winner Christiano Piquet by a thin 0:095 sec. margin of victory. Jep Thornton, in only his second race in the Skip Barber Race Series, followed the pair home to claim third place honors. Thornton collected the Masters win for the second consecutive day. Occasional racer Craig Lowy moved up 12 positions to land impressively in fourth.
The George Harrison / Mary Kay Memorial, which featured a strong turnout, saw Craig Duerson finish first ahead of Gerardo Bonilla and Midwest Masters Champion Roland Isra. The race was completed under yellow after Darren Arns crashed out on lap7.
The Formula Dodge Southern Regional Series remains at Daytona International Speedway for next round action but moves to the newly created“ Infield section” on January 18-20.