SIMMONS TURNS UP THE HEAT AT PETIT LeMANS
BRASELTON, Ga. (October 10) - Jeff Simmons is handling the pressure of chasing his first professional auto racing championship with all the savvy of a veteran driver.
The cool hand is impressive considering that Simmons is a rookie.
Simmons posted a flag-to-flag victory in Round 10 of the Barber Dodge Pro Series during the Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta Saturday morning. An early jump on second-place Todd Snyder at the green flag enabled Simmons to drive away from the field to claim the checker.
En route, he recorded a 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's always a little bit of tension when I get in the car. Every race you know you have to go out there and drive your best," Simmons said. "I wish (Snyder) wasn't starting next to me, but it didn't add anything to the overall tension."
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 current Indy Racing League star Kenny Bräck (1993) the only other first-year champion.
The Barber Dodge Pro Series points system counts the driver's ten best finishes in the 12-race schedule towards the series championship. Simmons and Snyder came into the Petit LeMans weekend 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 next weekend at the Homestead Motorsports Complex in Florida.
"Jeff did a great job. He brought everybody up nice and slow, and he got the jump going down through (turn) 12 and onto the front straightaway," Snyder said afterward. "That pretty much sealed the deal."
Snyder was never able to close to more than a few car lengths of Simmons as the top three drivers compiled a sizeable lead on the rest of the field. A restart off a yellow flag on lap 20 allowed Snyder one last shot, but the move was parried with Simmons once again utilizing a perfect start when the green was thrown.
Townsend Bell of Los Altos Hill, Calif. earned his first Barber Dodge podium finish with a third-place effort. Sepp Koster of the Nethlerlands placed fourth, followed by Thomas Schie of Norway to complete the top five.
Bell briefly challenged Snyder on the restart and pulled alongside, but was content to settle for third. The dicing for second allowed Simmons to tack a few seconds onto his own margin.
"On the restart. I did a pretty good job and pulled away from the guys behind me," Bell said. "Todd bobbled in (turn) seven and onto the back straightaway, and I had a pretty good run. We were next to each other heading for the corner, (but) Todd had the inside line and braked a little bit later than I did. I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize his chances for the championship, nor my chances for my first podium finish."
Schie kept his own championship hopes alive by fighting his way up from the 11th slot on the starting grid to fifth. Giovanni Anapoli of Montecchio, Italy continued his strong second-half run with a sixth-place finish, while Iradj Alexander-David placed seventh in his first Barber Dodge start.
With two races in consecutive week concluding the Barber Dodge schedule, Simmons was still cautiously optimistic about his title chances.
"The points battle is just incredibly tight," Simmons noted. "I think it's going to come down to the last lap at Laguna Seca (Round 12)."
Spoken like a true veteran.