SIMMONS, SNYDER TO SETTLE CHAMPIONSHIP CHASE AT LAGUNA SECA
MONTEREY, Calif. (October 22) - With 11 races completed and one race remaining in the Barber Dodge Pro Series season, the contenders for the title of series champion and endorsement of the $300,000 Career Enhancement Award have been whittled down to two.
With just two points separating leader Todd Snyder (144) from second-place Jeff Simmons (142) in the adjusted series points standings, the stage is set for a finale at the Visa Sportscar Championships at Laguna Seca Raceway with all the intrigue and drama of a Shakespeare play - a number of complex and confusing point-scoring scenarios and a tantalizing bundle of "ifs".
In fact, if neither driver finishes in the points at the last race, Snyder will win the crown by that 144-142 margin. The Barber Dodge points system counts each driver's best 10 finishing positions toward the championship.
But unless Snyder finishes higher than seventh, he cannot improve his points total for the year, which currently sits at 144 points. Simmons has 142 points, and all that he can do is maintain or improve his season total at Laguna.
Either way, the season will go down in the history books as one of the closest and most complex points battles in the 14-year history of the Barber Pro Series.
It is a classic match of opposites.
In one corner is Simmons, a quiet, studious driver from East Granby, Conn. seeking to become the second rookie in Pro Series history to claim the title, joining current Indy Racing League champion Kenny Bräck (1993). Simmons spends much of his race weekend analyzing data downloaded from the car's Pi Research Systems on-board computer and conferring with his older brother, Indy Lights driver Chris Simmons, about car setup and driving technique.
On the opposite side is Snyder, a veteran driver and instructor at the Skip Barber Racing School who returned to racing full-time in 1998 with a bang; winning Round 1 of the Barber Dodge Pro Series at Sebring, Florida after competing in five Pro Series races as a teenager around the turn of the decade. The previous time that Snyder had driven at Laguna Seca Raceway (1991) in the Pro Series, he shared the victory podium with race-winner and current CART FedEx Series star Bryan Herta after a second-place finish.
In his return this time around, Snyder has shown remarkable consistency, and is the only driver in the series to score points and finish in the top 10 in every race, and that despite becoming a father for the first time in the midst of the season.
While Snyder was winning the historic first Barber Dodge race in the Reynard 98E chassis, Simmons was sitting home mending a broken leg. The absence of Simmons at Sebring could still prove to be pivotal in the way the championship deck plays out. The rookie went on to make his 1998 Barber Dodge debut at Round 2 at Lime Rock Park, and made his presence felt quickly by reeling off consecutive wins in Round 3 at Watkins Glen and Round 4 in Detroit.
Snyder continued to finish races with methodical precision despite a series of contact mishaps in consecutive races that saw Snyder's front wing flapping in the breeze with about as much downforce as the discarded paper from a birthday gift.
Simmons, with two wins, took over the top spot in the points chase, only to crash out of it in the rain of Round 7 at Mid-Ohio while leading the race. The two continued to joust in Round 8 at Road America before Snyder established a firm grasp on the lead with a dominant performance during the series' first trip of the year to Laguna Seca in Round 9. Snyder nabbed the pole position with a record-breaking qualifying lap, and then drove away from second-place Simmons in a race that ended under a caution that locked the competitors into their respective positions at the time that the yellow flag had been unfurled.
The championship looked more and more like it would be Snyder's, until the next round at Road Atlanta when Simmons returned the favor, claiming the pole and victory while relegating Snyder to second-place points.
Round 11 dawned with the two continuing an intense battle for the championship. Simmons followed Brazilian wonderkind Nilton Rossoni to a second-place finish, with Snyder right behind in third.
But the specter of that missed race at Sebring still looms over Simmons, who has already taken two pointless outings. If Snyder wins and takes the pole on the return to Laguna Seca, Simmons must finish third to win the championship, and the $250,000 cash bonus and the $50,000 Indy Lights engine lease that comprise the Career Enhancement Award.
Unless Snyder finishes higher than seventh, he cannot improve his points total for the year in the final race, as seventh place is his second-lowest finish of the year. Should Snyder finish seventh or lower, all Simmons has to do is cross the line 13th or higher to claim the crown.
But there is still another "if".
If both Simmons and Snyder fail to finish the race, the championship is Snyder's, by virtue of his overall consistent scoring and the previously-mentioned narrow 144-142 score in the best10 races. There is also the matter of tiebreakers to consider- Simmons has three wins going into Laguna, while Snyder has two. If Snyder wins the race and the pole, and Simmons finishes third, then both drivers will have three wins. But Simmons has three second-place finishes, while Snyder holds two.
There is an easy explanation. Overall, Simmons must try to keep Snyder as far back as possible, while Snyder tries to do the same to Simmons.
Snyder summarized the matchup at Laguna succinctly.
"He's going to try to kick my butt and I'm going to try to kick his," Snyder said.
Shakespeare would love the setting and the characters.
And only one will be crowned king.