SIMMONS, SNYDER TO SQUARE OFF AT HOMESTEAD THIS WEEKEND
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (October 14) - As the Barber Dodge Pro Series sprints down the final stretch of the season, there is one certainty - the fact that nothing has been settled.
With Round 11 of the 12-race series scheduled for this weekend at the Homestead Motorsports Complex, both the drivers and crew find themselves in the middle of the busiest stretch in Pro Series history, with three races in three weeks. Unlike every other open-wheeled racing series in the country, the Barber Dodge championship battle is still undecided.
Jeff Simmons posted a flag-to-flag victory in Round 10 of the Barber Dodge Pro Series during the Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta last weekend. An early jump on second-place finisher Todd Snyder at the green flag enabled Simmons to cruise away from the field. En route, Simmons recorded the quickest race lap (1:24.286 averaging 109.342 mph) that was almost half a second faster than Snyder's (1:24.754/108.736 mph) best.
There was a certain symmetry to Simmons' win, as it offset a carbon-copy performance by Snyder in Round 9 at Laguna Seca. Both drivers expect the see-saw battle for the series championship and the $300,000 Career Enhancement Award to continue through the last turn of the last lap of the encore appearance at Laguna Seca October 23-25.
The win, combined with the bonus point earned when Simmons claimed the pole position for the race, vaulted the native of East Granby, Conn. into sole control of the Barber Dodge Pro Series points chase with two races left. Simmons is attempting to become the second rookie in the 13-year history of the series to win the overall championship, with newly-crowned Indy Racing League champion Kenny Bräck (1993) the only other first-year Pro Series victor.
The Barber Dodge Pro Series points system counts the driver's ten best finishes in the 12-race schedule towards the championship. Simmons and Snyder came into Round 10 with 105 points apiece when each driver's two lowest scores were dropped. Simmons emerged with an adjusted five-point lead (126-121) on Snyder heading into Round 11. "The points battle is just incredibly tight. I wish I hadn't missed the first race and fallen out of another," Simmons said. "I think I'd maybe have a little bit more of a cushion than I do now. I'm up by five points, which is virtually nothing if he wins the next race."
The Barber Dodge Pro Series has never visited the 2.21-mile, 14-turn road course circuit at Homestead but several drivers have visited the track in the Skip Barber Formula Dodge Race Series. Simmons has posted an amazing record in the smaller cars at the track, with five wins and a second in six races there in 1997. Two other rookie Pro Series competitors had double Formula Dodge wins at Homestead in 1998- Matt Plumb and local favorite Ryan Hunter-Reay of Boca Raton. "It's going to be interesting at Homestead - watching everyone trying to figure out what the quick way around is," Snyder said. "I imagine it's probably going to be going down to the wire all the way at Laguna."
While Simmons and Snyder expect to settle their battle at the front of the grid, there are a number of other drivers looking to make an impression, and perhaps tilt the points battle in the two remaining races. Teenage sensation Nilton Rossoni, who has two poles and one win in six Pro Series starts, has returned from full-time competition in Brazil. Freshly-crowned Formula Dodge Eastern Series champion Josh Rehm will also make the start at Homestead, while impressive newcomer Iradj Alexander-David of Switzerland returns for his second Pro Series start after a third-place qualifying effort and second-place finish last week at Road Atlanta.
Of course, there are still a number of veterans seeking an opportunity for a strong finish. Thomas Schie of Norway is still mathematically alive in the championship battle and could make a substantial gain if Simmons and Snyder falter. Giovanni Anapoli of Italy, Sepp Koster of the Netherlands and Townsend Bell, Will Langhorne and Jon Fogarty of the United States are a threat in any race.
All remaining questions will have to be settled on the track.