Americans display great promise in first New Zealand test

Christchurch, New Zealand (December 30, 2003) -- Three talented young American racers enjoyed a very promising first test session today in preparation for the forthcoming six-race Talley's New Zealand International Formula Ford Series. Joe D'Agostino, 18, from Plantation, Fla., Charlie Kimball, 18, from Camarillo, Calif., and Ryan Millen, 19, from Newport Beach, Calif., put the trio of Team USA Scholarship-entered Stealth/Van Diemens through their paces at Ruapuna Park Raceway and left local team owner John Crawford astounded by their speed and attitude.

"I'm really impressed -- extremely impressed," declared Crawford, himself a former New Zealand Formula Ford Champion whose Canterbury Motor Racing School team will oversee the preparation of the Americans' cars. "The boys settled in very quickly and were on the pace right away. They'll be a force to be reckoned with, that's for sure."

In very warm weather and far from ideal track conditions, D'Agostino turned the fastest lap of the day at 1m30.2s, an average speed of 85.31 mph, which is within a half-second of the lap record for the 2.14-mile (3.44 kms) track. Kimball also turned some very competitive times during the hotter afternoon period, while Millen was equally impressive despite getting started a little bit later and ending his day early due to an engine problem.

"It was a really good first day of testing," said D'Agostino. "The team did a good job and it was great to start working with our engineer, Andy Neale [also a leading Formula Ford contender in the early 1990s who later worked as a chief mechanic with 1997 Formula 1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve and the BAR Honda team]. We all got along very well and were able to compare data and learn from each other."

"It took me a little time to reacclimate myself with a carbureted engine," added Kimball, who finished third in this year's Formula Ford 2000 Zetec Championship in the U.S. and more recently placed third in the British Formula Ford Zetec Winter Series. "It has a big flat spot compared to the fuel-injected motors I'm used to, but I'm getting there. It's good that I can sit down tonight and think about things, then get ready for our next test tomorrow morning.

"This is a great track," continued Kimball. "It's really technical and it's got a little of everything -- some long, sweeping corners, some fast tight stuff and some tight, twisty hairpin corners. There's a little bit of elevation change too; just enough to make it interesting."

Said Millen, who won last year's New Zealand South Island Formula Ford Championship, "I didn't get much time in the car and we still have an older-spec engine in it right now. All things considered, it was good to get back in the car, and I'm looking forward to getting some more miles tomorrow."

The Americans will test again for half a day at Ruapuna tomorrow, then enjoy the New Year celebrations before going on to test at Levels Raceway, Timaru, on Saturday. The first two races of the International series will take place at Timaru on January 11, with subsequent events at Invercargill's Teretonga Park Raceway (for the prestigious New Zealand Grand Prix) on January 18 and then a return to Ruapuna for the final two races on January 25.