Bonilla, Nelson Split Virginia International Races ALTON, Va. (April 24) - In the weekend's first Skip Barber National race, points leader Gerardo Bonilla starts the furthest back he has in a long, long time -- and wins the race. For the second...
Bonilla, Nelson Split Virginia International Races
ALTON, Va. (April 24) - In the weekend's first Skip Barber National race, points leader Gerardo Bonilla starts the furthest back he has in a long, long time -- and wins the race. For the second race, Bonilla starts on pole. And doesn't win. And that goes to show you what you get when you mix a great track with hungry, talented drivers: almighty good racing.
In race one, with the first two and a half rows all rookies -- including a 15-year-old polesitter, Pablo Sanchez Lopez -- you would expect fireworks. And we got them. Into One at the start, Alan Sciuto wasted a fine qualifying effort and spun off. Toward the back of the pack Richard Heistand got into Casey Neal and they both fell off the road. And from his row four start, Bonilla also went off, rejoining way toward the back. Next lap, Garrett Zine spun in One. As did Chris Cook and Peter Ludwig (which gave Bonilla three instant spots). Meanwhile, Sanchez Lopez kept his lead through the first lap but Jordy Vorrath drafted him down the long back straight and out-braked Lopez into 14 for the lead.
Now the gloves were off up front. Lopez, Vorrath, Cole Nelson, Matt Varsha, Lorenzo Mandarino and David Greco went at it in such a frantic fashion that you had to wonder, How's this going to end? I mean, through the first seven laps we had a different leader each time (and that doesn't count the lead changes on the other parts of the track). But the mixture, so to speak, began to change on lap six, when Varsha overcooked it into Turn Three while chasing then-leader Vorrath. Who then promptly threw it away in T1 a lap later, handing the lead to Nelson. Who got another 600 yards before Sanchez Lopez went underneath in Three... and there wasn't enough room for two and off they went.
So who's your leader now? Mandarino. And right behind him was Bonilla. Almost forgot about him... ''When I rejoined (after his T1/lap 1 spin), I knew I could still get points, but didn't think a win. But after I worked my way around some backmarkers, I could see the leaders! They must have been fighting so hard, they didn't gap any of us.'' Bonilla closed on Mandarino and draft-passed him into 14 with two to go. Last lap, Mandarino re-pays the favor in the same corner and leads by inches as they scream down the twisty hill to the finish. Bonilla pops out from behind as they exit the last corner... is there time, enough track?... they flash across the line and it's almost too close to call. Transponders say... Bonilla, by .007.
Canada-based Italian Greco, in his first-ever formula car race (he's tested Formula Renault, after karting in Brazil), drove tremendously well, taking third despite adding major dihedral to his right front wing early on. Skip Barber Regional front runner Sy Aryeh, no spring chicken but a very fast, smart racer, got himself a solid impressive fourth, while Winston de Wardt made some great passes and stayed out of trouble to get fifth. Andy Rossetto and Paul Albert did likewise to get sixth and seventh, while Sanchez Lopez, Sciuto and Neal worked hard to recover from their offs to round out the top 10. Race two had a lot less people falling off the tarmac; it was a different type of excitement. Everybody got through One clean, Vorrath snatching P1 from Bonilla, but it became clear right away: This was going to be a three-way fight between Vorrath, Bonilla and Nelson. Vorath led the first lap, but Nelson sliced past for the lead into T14 on lap two. (Behind them, Varsha in fifth spins in 17, and Neal and Zine have to go four-off to avoid, Neal having to retire.) Next lap, Vorrath grabs the lead back (yes, going into 14) and actually manages to hold it for an amazing four laps, with Nelson right on his gearbox.
Through this stretch, Bonilla started to fall back a bit, four or five car lengths, and Sciuto was starting to catch him. But then Sciuto made a mistake in Turn One, which took the heat off Bonilla and he started catching Vorrath and Nelson again. It helped his cause that those two were at it like you read about. On lap seven, Nelson got a good run out of Oak Tree (the famous first-gear righthander that leads onto the 3,000 foot back straight up to 14) and got underneath for the lead.
Now you could throw a hanky over these three. The last three laps, these guys ran so close it was scary. Vorrath made one last, valiant go (can you guess where?), trying to make an outside move stick... Nelson gave him just enough room... but Vorrath couldn't make it work and tucked back in. The three crossed the finish line all inside of half-a-second. Nelson, a karting scholarship winner, was ecstatic about his victory -- despite getting the requisite Gatorade soaking from the mechanics (all first-time winners must enjoy this custom).
Mandarino had another excellent run, taking fourth (leaping from 14th to fifth in the points), while Sanchez Lopez climbed impressively from 13th to fifth. Varsha recovered excellently to sixth, Peter Ludwig was seventh, followed by Greco, de Wardt and Heistand. Sciuto, who had gotten back up as high as sixth, had another four-off late in the game and wound up 11th.
Next up is Lime Rock Park, a wholly different animal to VIR; less technical, much faster, laps under a minute. A certain kind of bravery is rewarded here. Should be good.
<pre> SBNC Points standings, after 4 of 14 rounds: 1) Gerardo Bonilla 77 2) Cole Nelson 47 3) Matt Varsha 45 4) Jordy Vorrath 37 5) Lorenzo Mandarino 35 6) Casey Neal 27 7) Paul Albert 26 8) Garrett Zine 25 9) Alan Sciuto 24 10) Pablo Sanchez Lopez 20