SBRS: Michael Valiante Wins 1998 Rio Big Scholarship

MICHAEL VALIANTE CAPTURES 1998 RIO BIG SCHOLARSHIP SHOOTOUT SEBRING, Fla. (December 9) - Although he might have enjoyed the sunshine and warm weather, Michael Valiante of Vancouver, Canada took a trip to Florida that was all business....

MICHAEL VALIANTE CAPTURES 1998 RIO BIG SCHOLARSHIP SHOOTOUT

SEBRING, Fla. (December 9) - Although he might have enjoyed the sunshine and warm weather, Michael Valiante of Vancouver, Canada took a trip to Florida that was all business. Valiante will return to Canada as the winner of the 1998 Rio Big Scholarship Shootout at Sebring International Raceway, and enjoy the fruits of his trip for the next year with a paid season of auto racing in the Barber Dodge Pro Series valued at $175,000. The Rio Big Scholarship, which is sponsored by the Rio All-Suite Casino Resort in Las Vegas, is one of the top prizes in the $1 million Skip Barber Racing School Ladder System. The scholarship program provides financial and coaching assistance to help young, talented drivers progress from Karting to the CART FedEx Championship Series. The Barber Dodge Pro Series, televised on ESPN2, is recognized internationally as a premier development series for up-and-coming drivers. The Pro Series has produced such talents as CART FedEx star Bryan Herta, Indy Racing League champion Kenny Bräck, and Juan Pablo Montoya, the newest member of the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing Team. NASCAR Winston Cup driver Jerry Nadeau and PPG-Dayton Indy Lights standouts Andy Boss and Tony Renna are former Big Scholarship recipients. "I never expect to win, because if you do it's such a blow if you don't," the 19-year old Valiante said. "I'm speechless... "Coming from Karting, I'm used to really tight competition, but this was one of the hardest competitions that I have ever been in with such a high quality level of drivers. It makes me feel that much better because I know what I've accomplished." The 11 drivers invited to the shootout were chosen based on their performance this season in one of the four Skip Barber Formula Dodge Race Series championships. Valiante, who dominated the Formula Dodge Midwestern series by winning 11 of 14 races, showed all of the attributes both on an off the track that brought him to the attention of Team Kool Green Champ Car star Paul Tracy, among others. He won his spot in the Formula Dodge series by a similar dominant performance in the Skip Barber Racing School's Karting Scholarship Shootout last year. The activities Wednesday concluded three days of driver evaluations and featured a final qualifying session in the morning, broken into two 20-minute segments. After lunch, the field was cut to six to present the drivers with a new chassis management exercise. Each driver then had a stint of three two-laps mini-sessions to figure out what had been mechanically altered on the car before a final five-lap qualifying session. Valiante mastered the exercise, effectively diagnosing the car's problem on his first trip into pit lane. The setup skills and a consistently strong performance in the track sessions earned Valiante a unanimous decision from the team of judges, which consisted of professional drivers Kelly Collins, Jim Pace, Barry Waddell, and Peter Argetsinger, as well as auto racing journalists Jeremy Shaw and Gordon Kirby. "We understand that a driver's diagnostic ability is an attribute and a skill that any driver needs to have, " Waddell noted. "The benefit of this exercise is both an evaluation and an experience - it gives all the drivers an experience of an intense format of (problem solving) under the pressure of the Shootout." The 1998 Skip Barber Racing School Rio Big Scholarship Shootout began Monday morning with a presentation of the Physical & Mental Readiness and Auto Racing Performance program at Human Performance International (HPI) in Daytona Beach. Tuesday featured extended test time on the track, with a preliminary qualifying session. The invitees made extensive use of the car's on-board Pi Research data acquisition system to chart laps on a specially-designed 2.0 mile test circuit at Sebring. The in-car time was followed by a driver interview session which allowed the chance for the candidates to introduce themselves to the judges in a formal setting. Valiante impressed the panel throughout the three-day evaluation process. Valiante was grateful for his opportunity to participate, and appreciative of the boost it will provide to his career. "With the way Skip Barber has structured it now, I'm a perfect example of how you can go through each level and if you make the right choices and make sure you're prepared..." Valiante said. "You hear a lot of people say that if you work hard enough your dreams will happen. I think it's true."

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