SBRS: Phoenix race report

(PHOENIX, Az.) April 21, 2001 -Leading the race from the pole all the way to the checkered flag, 30-year old Nicolas Rondet from Melle, France captured his second career Barber Dodge Pro Series victory at Phoenix International Raceway. Never ...

(PHOENIX, Az.) April 21, 2001 -Leading the race from the pole all the way to the checkered flag, 30-year old Nicolas Rondet from Melle, France captured his second career Barber Dodge Pro Series victory at Phoenix International Raceway. Never seriously challenged during the race Rondet led Sepp Koster of The Netherlands across the finish line by 8.306 sec., and setting the fastest lap of the race in the process. For his efforts Rondet is rewarded with 20 points for the win and a point each for the pole and the fastest lap of the race. The 22 points coupled with the 12 points earned in the first round for his third-place finish give him a commanding lead early in the 2001 12 round Barber Dodge Pro Series. Rookie Rafael Sperafico of Brazil finished third.

"I knew that if I made it through turn-2 in the lead that it would be very difficult to get passed. As things turned out I was able to pull a little further away each lap. The car was right on the money. If I had to go back out onto the track right now I wouldn't change a thing," said Rondet who drives the No. 24 In KART USA Dodge Reynard. "It's going to be a long season but obviously its good to start it at the front."

The 40-minute race started under the threat of rain but all 21 Dodge Reynards went off on slick Michelin tires. Midway through the race, rain fell out on the back half of the course making things very treacherous. It was the only time Rondet slowed down the entire race. Consistently he was able to stretch his lead each lap by three to four tenths of a second on a lap that lasts only 59 seconds. Koster knew right at the start of the race that Rondet was the class of the field on the day. Nevertheless he made some changes to his No. 4 Stora Drain Dodge Reynard's roll stiffness to dial out some understeer midway though the race via his cockpit adjustable anti-roll bars. For the balance of the race he was able to maintain a comfortable pace that kept Sperafico at bay, though the young Brazilian was able to close the gap down to one second in the early part of the race.

"We came here rather conservatively looking to get on the podium and score some points to get the season off to a good start, so I guess I have to be happy with this result," said Koster who failed to score points in the opening round at Sebring. "It's a long season so hopefully this is the start of something nice."

Sperafico, 19, started the race from third on the grid and drove an intelligently strong race more befitting of a driver with twice the experience. Yet only in his third career start, the Barber-CART Big Scholarship winner continues to demonstrate his prowess.

"I'm prepared to stay here and continue to drive well. I have so many people helping me, there are five people in my family who race, so I'm going to do everything I can to stay at the front," said Sperafico. "I liked this track and Sebring as well. Let's see what happens the rest of the year."

Fellow Barber-CART Big Scholarship winner Jon Morley scored a career high fourth-place finish. He made up a place at the start from sixth then passed Marc Breuers on lap seven in turn-4. He chased Sperafico, but it was in vain though he never sustained any real pressure from behind for the duration. Floridian Davy Cook, another rookie, had his best ever finish taking a fifth-place finish. Breuers was yet again the victim as he slid wide in turn-2. Cook, right on his gearbox, capitalized to take over fifth place. Breuers, in his second year, nevertheless was content with a career best sixth place.

Roger Yasukawa drove well to finish seventh after starting the race from 13th. Eighth place went to rookie Christian Szymczak who was as high as sixth before a brief spin caused him to lose to places. Ryan Hunter-Reay battled from an opening lap spin that relegated him to 19th after starting fourth to finish in ninth place. He battled spiritedly throughout the field to gain places including a side by side duel with Peter Boss. Boss would ultimately take the tenth position. Californian Jon Vannini made up the most places over his starting position advancing from 21st to 14th earning him the $500 Consceco Step Up Award.

Rondet now heads to rounds three and four over the Memorial Day weekend at Lime Rock Park with a healthy 11-point margin over Rafael Sperafico in second and his cousin Alex Sperafico another point down in third overall.

Round two of the Barber Dodge Pro Series will be broadcast on ESPN 2 on Thursday May 3 at 6:00 p.m. EDT.

Top 15 Points Overall Following Round 2

Rondet, 36; R. Sperafico, 25; A Sperafico, 24; Hunter-Reay, 23, Morley, 21; Yasukawa, 21; Cook, 19; Boss, 17; Breuers, 17; Koster, 16; Szymczak, 13; Akihira Okamoto, 10; Gian Domenico Brusatin, 7; Sara Senske, 5; Vaninni, 5.

-Barber

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