Franc defends points lead to take Challenge title.
Matt Franc secured the Skip Barber Challenge title on the new Sebring track layout by sweeping the final rounds of the inaugural series. Franc, who led the series through all six rounds, held off Craig Duerson in both races to land on the top step twice. Duerson, one of only two other drivers to claim victories in the series, finished the mini-championship in second overall. Michael Culver followed the pair, third overall in final standings. First round winner Antoine Bessette and John Pew finished the series in fourth and fifth respectively. Laura Rowe, Bud Risser, Ron Atapattu, Chris Oliver and Quentin Wahl secured positions six through ten.
Twelve racers turned out for the final weekend of competition. The series, which expects to announce new dates for 2003 shortly, was designed to give regional regulars the opportunity to experience and compete in the Dodge Reynard 98E under familiar Skip Barber regional rules.
Round 5 action saw Duerson set a blistering pace from his pole position. The Floridian led Franc around the x.xx mile track configuration 25 of the 26-lap race. Franc, who had started alongside, was able to regain ground lost at the start, converting a fastest lap time of 1:05.119 sec. into an eventually pass of Duerson on the final trip. Culver was in the mix until the final stripe, ready to pounce on either of the two racers pushing the limit. He finished in third only two seconds back. John Pew and Antoine Bessette rounded out the top-5. Ron Atapattu, who missed the initial weekend, rounded off a strong performance in the 98E car with his hard drive from 11th to sixth.
The Round 6 finale featured an epic duel between season long protagonists, Franc and Duerson. The evenly matched drivers shared the point over the 26-lap contest, each leading 13 laps. Although Duerson had a better start, inserting himself to the lead from outside of row 1, it was Franc who finished strongest and out in front by half-second. Franc also tripped the fastest lap among racers for the second consecutive day, this time stopping the clocks at 1:04.731 sec. Mid-way through the contest, Franc found the opportunity he needed to upset Duerson for position. From lap 13 on, Franc led the field, making full use of the performance potential of the 98E and Michelin slick combination. Athough Duerson threw everything he had at him, Franc secured his fourth consecutive win to clinch his first Challenge title. Antoine Bessette followed to claim third place honors, his first podium since Round 2. Popular racer Bud Risser improved four positions to earn Most Progressive Driver distinction, finishing in seventh after starting from 11th on the grid.
After the long weekend, Franc was effusive in his comments about the championship and the new series. He particularly doled out praise to his fellow competitors and the entire Driver Coach corps.
"I would like to thank Craig Duerson and Leo Maia for all their help with coaching and their friendship. The entire Skip Barber Staff is beyond professional. Greg Borland, Jim Pace and Barry Waddell all contributed to both the fun and competitive nature of the series. They are the second best thing about going racing in this series. First, of course, is the 98E racecar."