D'Agostino leads the charge
Strong start for Team USA Scholarship drivers in International Series opener.

Timaru, New Zealand (January 11, 2004) -- Joe D'Agostino led the Team USA Scholarship charge in this afternoon's opening two races of the Talley's International Formula Ford Series at Levels Raceway. D'Agostino led most of the first race before having to settle for second, and followed up with a sixth-place finish later in the day.

Charlie Kimball finished a strong fourth in Race One and was challenging for third midway through the second race when his gearbox abruptly failed. Ryan Millen, in the third Canterbury Motor Racing School-prepared Team USA Scholarship car, posted two stunning charges from lowly grid positions. He was running seventh in the first race until making mistake on the final lap, and finished a strong fifth in the next race, just ahead of D'Agostino.

The first 10-lap race was action-filled. The initial attempt at a start was annulled almost immediately when national championship leader Brendon Hartley was involved in a huge accident at the first corner. The 14-year-old was fortunate to escape uninjured. The race was red-flagged, which actually was good news for polesitter D'Agostino, who had a little too much wheelspin when the lights went green and was beaten into the first corner by Chris Pither.

Not so at the restart. D'Agostino timed his launch perfectly, held the lead into the first corner and quickly began to pull away. Pither, meanwhile, had lost a little ground in attempting to pass D'Agostino, and instead fell to third behind fellow teenager Andy Knight, who put up a solid defense which further played into D'Agostino's hands.

"I was gone," declared D'Agostino. "I was walking away with it and then, unfortunately, the safety car came out."

The full-course caution had been triggered by another crash. Soon after the restart, troubled by oversteer, D'Agostino lost out to Pither who, had earlier passed Knight in controversial circumstances [see notes below]. Pither held on to win by less than a half-second. Knight, also driving for John Crawford's Canterbury Motor Racing School team, finished third, while Kimball took fourth after a terrific duel with Simon Gamble.

"I really enjoyed that race and learned a lot," said Kimball.

Millen, meanwhile, had charged impressively from 12th on the grid and was putting pressure on Tim Edgell for sixth when he made a mistake on the final lap and spun into the tires.

"I took a lot of chances and it didn't pay off in the end," admitted Millen. "Honestly, though, I enjoyed that race much more even than winning the South Island Championship last year. I just made a mistake at the end and left my braking too late and went off. I'm better than that, but unfortunately I made a mistake."

Millen was able to redeem himself in race two, making up two places at the start from 10th on the grid and quickly moving up onto the tail of D'Agostino, who was hindered by a problem in selecting first gear. Millen made the pass at half-distance and then tried all he could to find a way past Edgell, but to no avail.

"He made that car really wide," said Millen, who was nonetheless delighted to finish fifth. "Some days you can win both races but not learn much. Days like today are when you feel like you really did something."

The 15-lap second race was won by Pither, who grasped the early lead in the International Championship which offers a host of valuable prizes for the winners. Pither, 16, also moved into the lead of the Talley's New Zealand Formula Ford Championship after his double success. Veteran Kenny Smith finished second after starting from pole.

Results for Round One (10 laps): 1. Chris Pither (NZ), Spectrum 08, 13m 24.0s; 2. Joe D'Agostino (USA), Stealth/Van Diemen, +0.45s; 3. Andy Knight (NZ), Stealth/Van Diemen; 4. Charlie Kimball (USA), Stealth/Van Diemen; 5. Simon Gamble (NZ), Spectrum 010; 6. Tim Edgell (NZ), Stealth/Van Diemen; DNF. Ryan Millen (USA), Stealth/Van Diemen. Fastest lap: Pither, 1m 06.756s, 80.422mph.

Results for Race Two (15 laps): 1. Pither, 16m 56s; 2. Kenny Smith (NZ), Stealth Evo 2, +1.394s; 3. Knight; 4. Edgell; 5. Millen; 6 D'Agostino. DNF Kimball. Fastest lap: Pither, 1m 07.028s, 80.096mph,.

Unofficial championship positions after two of six races: 1. Pither, 66; 2. Knight, 46; 3. D'Agostino, 44; 4. Smith, 42; 5. Edgell, 36; 6. Gamble and Mark Doran, 27. Also, 9. Kimball, 20; 11. Millen, 18.

Notes:

* The results of the first race were held in abeyance for several hours while the race stewards investigated an incident wherein Pither reportedly passed Knight while yellow flags were waving on the corner. A protest was filed and both D'Agostino and Kimball were called as witnesses. Both drivers said they had seen the flags, but the stewards eventually allowed the results to stand, since official observers on the turn had reported no infraction.

* The Team USA Scholarship drivers will spend the next few days relaxing and sightseeing on the scenic New Zealand South Island before reconvening at the world's most southerly race track, Teretonga Park, near Invercargill, for next weekend's prestigious New Zealand Prix Grand.

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