Ryan Hunter-Reay made a strong start to his 2001 Barber Dodge Pro Series campaign. The 20-year old from Boca Raton, Fla. is looking to take his third consecutive Barber-CART Scholarship having previously won the Big Scholarship as well as the...
Ryan Hunter-Reay made a strong start to his 2001 Barber Dodge Pro Series campaign. The 20-year old from Boca Raton, Fla. is looking to take his third consecutive Barber-CART Scholarship having previously won the Big Scholarship as well as the Rookie of the Year in 1999 and 2000 respectively. The opening week of the Barber Dodge Pro Series is a long and tense one for all involved. Hunter-Reay had an especially long one with a little extra-curricular activity at the beginning. He took it all in stride and walked away with a good result, though still one step short of his first career victory. That it would seem however, is not far away. Here follows the week in review from his point of view.
Round 01 of the Barber Dodge Pro Series - Sebring International Raceway - March 13-17, 2001
Sunday night before the race week started I had the opportunity to meet with George Tamayo and Ben Menniges of the Barber Dodge Pro Series marketing staff at the Executive Jet Center in Ft. Lauderdale for a photo shoot of myself and my Dodge Reynard. This was the first time I had the opportunity to see my car with the 2001 paint and sticker scheme completely finished.
The Barber Dodge marketing department did an excellent job in creating a very professional appearance for the BARBER-CART Scholarship Team, not only with very sharp looking cars, but the racing suits as well. The photo shoot was done inside the hangar and I can't describe how incredible the car looked on a shiny, white floor lit up from every direction. This only added to my growing impatience to get the season and the Sebring race week started.
Monday night I picked up Jean Marchioni, the U.S. importer of Tony Kart, from the Orlando airport. Jean signed me as a factory driver for Tony Kart back in 1996 and we have developed an excellent working relationship from years of karting and we will be working together for much of the season.
This is my first race with my new associate sponsor Briggs & Stratton. They have signed on for two races so far, the Sebring race and the Road America race, and I'm hoping to further my relationship with them throughout the season as an associate sponsor to the Barber-CART Rookie of the Year Scholarship. Tuesday morning felt great to finally be at the track again for a race weekend after the long off-season. The first test session was quite early in the morning and I used it to get reacquainted with the Sebring 12-Hour track configuration and to try a couple of minor changes to the car. I ended the session at the top of the time sheet with a 2:07.847 sec. In the second session I dialed in a few more tweaks and on my 10th lap I posted a time good enough for P1 for the session and the day. The hard work over the off season is paying dividends and that was just the way I wanted to see the first two time sheets of the 2001 season.
The first official practice was on Wednesday, and I used it to experiment with some aerodynamic changes, as well as a few variations in driving style for getting a good run out of corner 17 onto the front straight. My stop in the pits to make a change was a bit too long and I ended up re-entering the track right in the mix of all the traffic. At the end of the session I was nipped for P1 by a little more than a tenth of a second by Roger Yasukawa.
Thursday was the second practice session and I used it to set-up the car a bit differently through adjusting mechanical grip and really concentrating on my minimum speeds through a few crucial corners. At the conclusion of the practice session I was sitting in P2, just four one-thousandths of a second (0.004) from P1. Not as good as the previous day, but we were confident of our package for qualifying.
Thursday night was a little tough getting to sleep in the RV where we were spending the week. This is the time of the race week at Sebring when the partying really starts picking up. We were located on the inside of Turn 1, which was directly across the road from the mechanical bull and the entrance to the test track infield known as "No Mans Land." If you've ever been to Sebring for the 12 Hour Race you can imagine the noise level we experienced well into the morning hours.
Before the first qualifying session on Thursday I was really happy to finally see Tommy Fogarty, who suffered a broken neck in a road car accident only a week and a half before.
I couldn't believe he was actually out walking around and still cracking jokes even though he was in a serious neck brace contraption and his vocal chords were hardly working. Tommy, we all wish you the best and a speedy recovery!
The first qualifying session went much like the practice sessions. I planned on only one stop in the hopes of finding a clear lap. Soon enough the session ended and I was P2 in provisional qualifying by a very thin margin again, only five-hundredths of a second (0.050) off pole position, which frustrated me because it was, once again, such a small margin.
The entire week had been going great until Friday morning's final qualifying session. In the first half of the session I couldn't manage a single clear lap. Toward the end I managed to get some good laps in, but I just couldn't get a good lap time out of the car. I had to use my provisional qualifying time from Thursday as almost everyone went quicker Friday except me! I was unfortunately starting the race from fifth on the grid. We found our problems with the car later in the day and I was ready for the race and the opportunity to fight my way back to the front.
A highlight of the day was our first ever CART drivers meeting. CART officials were present and spoke on a number of issues from safety to on track conduct. They reassured us that our opinions and actions would be taken into consideration with as much weight as Gil de Ferran or any other CART driver. They made it clear we are the sport's future. The CART association is the best thing that could have possibly happened to the Barber Dodge Pro Series because we now have a clearly defined ladder system from karts right up to Champ Cars.
The race started Saturday morning at 9:10 so I arrived at the paddock very early that morning to double-check everything. Because I was starting fifth, I knew I had to get a good start, but that was not the way it would turn out. I had a terrible start as I got caught out by the stack up effect as the green flag flew. I lost three positions by turn one! Rafael Sperafico and Sepp Koster had contact, which removed them from the fray and forced Pete Boss to check-up and allowed me a run past him. It took a few laps of full course yellow to remove to clear the track but once the green flew I started my climb back to the front from fifth.
I snagged P4 from fellow BARBER-CART Scholarship driver, Jon Morley as he checked up under braking for corner three as Matt Plumb and Alex Sperafico touched. I then got a good run on Plumb going into the hairpin as he ran wide due to damage from the contact with Alex. I recorded some good laps and managed to get within striking distance of Nicolas Rondet, who was running strong in second. I tried time and time again to get a run on him to attempt a pass, but I just couldn't make it stick.
Finally, with two laps to go, I made a move for the inside of turn-1 and ran side by side with him all the way to turn three where I defended the inside line and took the position. I managed to finish the race in a respectable second place, not what I had wanted but good points in the bank toward the Championship nonetheless.
I was content with the 2nd step of the podium considering the problems I had in qualifying and the poor start to the race. It was also great to be on the podium at what I consider to be my home track. Once again I will be very anxious, especially after a month of waiting, to climb back into the car for round 2 at Phoenix. Look for my daily race reports and all the BDPS time sheets starting the 18th at my new web site, www.RyanRacing.com and feel free to send your thoughts and comments to Ryan@RyanRacing.com. Thank you for taking the time to read my diary, and I hope to see you at the track.