Clean Sweep For Team USA Scholarship Drivers In New Zealand
Christchurch, New Zealand (January 25, 2004) -- Three weeks of fluctuating emotions for the Team USA Scholarship drivers ended on a spectacular note today at Ruapuna Park Raceway as Charlie Kimball and Ryan Millen finished first and second in the final 18-lap race. The result ensured a clean sweep of all three races this weekend for Kimball and was enough to clinch the Talley's International Formula Ford Challenge Series crown. Kimball also established a new Formula Ford lap record almost a full second inside the previous mark.
"I'm exhausted" declared an ecstatic Kimball. "I put a huge effort into this weekend and I'm really tired now. I came down here with high expectations and then kind of faltered in the first two race weekends. But I know I was quick enough to win the New Zealand Grand Prix [last weekend] and I really wanted to leave New Zealand having left my mark. I'm very proud of that lap record, and I think it's gonna be pretty tough to beat."
"I don't like finishing second, especially to my teammate," chuckled Millen, who led more laps in the final race than anyone else, "but I learned a lot and it's been a fantastic experience. I really want to thank everyone for making this possible -- for all of us."
The first of two races today saw Kimball make a near perfect start from pole position and lead throughout the 12 laps. Impressive Christchurch teenager Andy Knight gave valiant chase for most of the race, but was caught by former series leader Chris Pither in the closing stages. The pair enjoyed a thrilling tussle for second which ended only when Knight was forced to take evasive action when a slower car spun in front of him in Turn One on the final lap. Pither went on to take the place ahead of steadily improving Marc Doran and the recovering Knight.
Millen ran third in the early stages before running off course while dicing with Pither. He rejoined in 13th and fought back to eighth at the finish. Auckland's Tim Edgell suffered a clutch problem at the start but worked his way through the field to finish fifth and take a 16-point lead over Pither into the finale. Kimball lay third in points at that stage, one point shy of Pither.
The final, championship-deciding race saw the cars lined up on the grid according to championship positions, with Edgell on pole ahead of Pither and Kimball. Pither got the initial jump at the start, but it was Edgell who led into Turn One. Kimball lay third ahead of Knight, Doran and Millen.
On lap two, at the hairpin, Pither thought he saw an opportunity and dived inside Edgell under braking. Edgell, however, was clearly intent on maintaining his advantage. The cars tangled and spun. Immediately behind, Kimball checked up and was clipped by an innocent -- and luckless -- Knight, who retired shortly afterward with suspension damage. Kimball took a trip through the grass and was fortunate to emerge unscathed, albeit now in a distant seventh place.
Doran suddenly found himself in the lead, chased by Millen and Jayant Singh, who drove impressively in his older Van Diemen RF92. Millen sized up the situation, picked up on Doran's weakness and dived inside to take the lead going into Turn One on lap five. Kimball, meanwhile, was fighting his way back up the order, and on lap nine moved past Doran for second. Kimball closed the gap to Millen quickly, then drafted past to take the lead on lap 13. He eventually took the checkered flag 1.516 seconds clear of his teammate.
"When I was behind Ryan, I didn't know what the points situation was," said Kimball. "I knew Pither and Edgell had been involved in an accident, obviously, but I didn't know if I needed to win the race to win the championship. I thought if I won the race and didn't win the championship, there wasn't any more I could do. As it happened, I didn't need to win, but it feels good anyway.
"Ryan raced me hard, maybe tougher than necessary, but it was OK. It was good preparation for England! [Kimball will be contesting the 2004 British Formula Ford Zetec Championship with Team JLR.]
"I have to thank all the competitors," continued Kimball, "because what they taught me these last few weeks was priceless. It's been an awesome experience."
The relatively inexperienced Millen drove superbly to back up Kimball and finish a strong second.
"I probably should have pushed a bit harder early in the race, because Charlie would have had a tougher time catching me, but I was trying to be a lot smoother than I was in the first race," said Millen. "I think that paid off. It's certainly nice to come away from this weekend with a couple of podium finishes."
The third Team USA Scholarship driver, Joe D'Agostino (who was forced to sit out this weekend's races after suffering a broken arm when he crashed during the New Zealand Grand Prix), was delighted to watch his two teammates battling for the lead in the final race.
"I'm thrilled," he said. "I was really nervous during the race, watching these two knuckleheads dicing back and forth. I would have loved to be out there with them, obviously, but circumstances didn't go that way. If someone else was going to win the championship, I'm thrilled it was one of my teammates. They both did a fantastic job and I'm excited for them."
Qualifying results for Race Two: 1. Charlie Kimball (USA), Van Diemen/Stealth RF94, 1m 29.353s; 2. Tim Edgell (NZ), Van Diemen RF03, 1m 29.742s; 3. Jayant Singh (NZ), Van Diemen RF92, 1m 29.793s; 4. Ryan Millen (USA), Van Diemen/Stealth RF94, 1m 29.797s; 5. Andy Knight (NZ), Van Diemen/Stealth RF94, 1m 30.050s; 6. Marc Doran (NZ), Van Diemen/Stealth RF94, 1m 30.412s.
Results for Race Two (12 laps): 1. Kimball, 18m 11.984s, 84.562mph; 2. Pither, 18m 15.833s; 3. Doran, 18m 16.238s; 4. Knight, 18m 17.068s; 5. Edgell, 18m 17.465s; 6. Ben Crighton (NZ), Van Diemen/Stealth RF94, 18m 22.768s; Also, 8. Millen, 18m 25.634s. Fastest lap: Edgell, 1m 29.869s, 85.625mph.
Grid positions for Race Three: 1. Edgell; 2. Pither; 3. Kimball; 4. Knight; 5. Doran; 6. Crighton; 7. Millen, etc.
Results for Race Three (18 laps): 1. Kimball, 27m 13.277s, 84.806 mph; 2. Millen, 27m 14.793s; 3. Doran, 27m 18.567s; 4. Crighton, 27m 20.675s; 5. Richard Reid (Van Diemen RF91), 27m 30.955s; 6. Singh, 27m 36.877s. Fastest lap: Kimball, 1m 29.198s, 86.270 mph (new lap record).
Final championship positions: 1. Kimball, 155; 2. Edgell, 139; 3. Pither, 134; 4. Doran, 102; 5. Knight, 93; 6. Crighton, 88; 7. Millen, 81; etc.