Team USA Scholarship Drivers Display Searing Pace in Timaru Test

Timaru, New Zealand (January 2, 2004) -- The three winners of the 2003/2004 Team USA Scholarship continued to show a good turn of speed today in a test session at a blisteringly hot Levels Raceway, Timaru, which will host the opening two races of the Talley's International Formula Ford Series next weekend, January 10/11.

Joe D'Agostino, 19, from Plantation, Fla., emerged marginally the quickest of the trio, posting a best lap at 1m 06.8s around the 1.49-mile (2.4 kms) track on New Zealand's South Island. Charlie Kimball, 18, from Camarillo, Calif., was within 0.2s in his identical Stealth/Van Diemen, with Ryan Millen, 19, from Newport Beach, Calif., also right on the pace. Unofficially, all three Americans were clocked faster than a few other local drivers, including Auckland's Tim Edgell who took his brand-new Van Diemen RF03 to third- and second-place finishes in the opening round of the New Zealand national championship at Pukekohe in November.

"We're all feeling very comfortable in the cars now," said D'Agostino, "and we're starting to understand what we need out of the cars, so it's good. Timaru is a relatively short track but it's fun. It kind of reminds me of Lime Rock Park (Conn.) because you get to do a lot of laps and you can really work on improving from corner to corner.

"It was really hot today," he continued. "It was up around 90 or 100 degrees, but what's good is that even though the track was getting slower as it got hotter, we were all setting similar lap times. I think we're going to be in good shape for the race. It's going to be a dog-fight between the three of us."

Kimball, too, was pleased with the test.

"I'm getting to understand what the car needs," he said. "It was a really good day, but it was SO hot! It reminded me of Buttonwillow (Calif.) in the summer -- it's almost too hot to run in the heat of the day."

Millen continued to run an older-spec engine (the race motor will be fitted in time for a final shakedown test at Ruapuna next week), but was delighted with his progress.

"Today went really well; it went great," said Millen, who is the only one of the three to have raced previously in New Zealand -- he won last year's South Island regional championship, also in a Canterbury Motor Racing School-prepared Stealth/Van Diemen. "I'm losing a little time on the straightaways but that's OK. Once we get the new engine, we should be good to go."

D'Agostino, Kimball and Millen are following in the footsteps of the likes of Jimmy Vasser, who won the first Team USA Scholarship in 1990, Bryan Herta (1991), Jerry Nadeau (1993), Memo Gidley (1995) and A.J. Allmendinger (2001). The trio will take a little time off to explore the New Zealand countryside before their next test at Ruapuna.