Rondet clinches championship at Laguna Seca

Rondet clinches championship at Laguna Seca
Oct 17, 2001, 11:45 PM

(MONTEREY, Calif.) Oct. 14, 2001 -Matt Plumb won his third career Barber Dodge Pro Series race but it was a fourth-place finish for Nicolas Rondet that clinched him the 2001 Barber Dodge Pro Series Championship and the $255,000 scholarship that goes ...

(MONTEREY, Calif.) Oct. 14, 2001 -Matt Plumb won his third career Barber Dodge Pro Series race but it was a fourth-place finish for Nicolas Rondet that clinched him the 2001 Barber Dodge Pro Series Championship and the $255,000 scholarship that goes with it. And it was Sepp Koster who emerged as the hero. After a dismal weekend, with his back against the wall to wrest the title from Rondet, Koster drove a soaring race to rise from tenth on the grid, eventually pass Rondet, and finish second. He said in the morning that he would give it 100%. By all accounts he gave it at least 101%. Another inspiring performance was turned in by Rafael Sperafico, who with a third place finish earned the Rookie of the Year title and the $185,000 Scholarship that goes with it.

"The win feels great and it's good to end the season on a completely different way than it started with the two straight DNF's. This is exactly how I wanted to remember the Barber Dodge Pro Series. It's great competition and great people to help us through it," said an elated Plumb who drives the No. 4 Premier Nutrition Dodge Reynard.

Rondet could have comfortably cruised to the title, even if Koster had gotten around him, which he duly did, Rondet could have simply followed him home and the title would still have been his. Ever the racer, Rondet put the bit between his teeth and drove like it was the first race of the year. Despite a few harrowing moments, he kept his cool and was crowned the champion.

"It feels great, but there is still work ahead to prove myself and progress up the ladder representing not only myself but the whole Skip Barber system of which I am a full product. I've won the Race Series title, the Big Scholarship, the Rookie of the Year scholarship and now the Pro Series. And not only will I promote the company, but all the great drivers who have come through here. I cannot reiterate enough that Sepp didn't win the championship, but he is championship material. I believe that if you are top-5 in this series, you are a great driver and I'm looking forward to racing these guys again in another series. If I had to pick a teammate today, it would be one of these guys right here (Plumb, Koster, Sperafico)," said the new champion graciously.

Davy Cook was the driver on the move at the start. By turn six he passed fellow row-2 starter Ryan Hunter-Reay into turn-6. With the Rookie of the Year title on the line, Cook now set his sights on the second-place car of Rondet. By the end of lap-1, Koster had also begun his charge having already advanced two places. On lap-2, Koster gained yet another spot. With Plumb, Rondet and Cook circulating nose to tail at the head of the field, Sperafico executed a thrilling pass on fellow Rookie of the Year hopeful Jon Morley at the infamous Corkscrew. Diving on the inside, Sperafico made the initial pass. So great was his entry-speed that he went wide at the top of the Corkscrew. Morley came alongside on the outside of the corner, but ultimately had to yield the line to a determined Sperafico. By lap-5 Koster had taken fifth place, and clearly he would fight till the end as he had vowed before the race. Each pass was firm, but absolutely professional.

On lap-6 Hunter-Reay went off course at turn-10 but recovered only to go off for good at turn-6 midway through lap-7. After the race, a throttle problem was determined to be the culprit that ended Hunter-Reay's day.

Five laps under the yellow to remove Hunter-Reay's stricken car bunched an already tight field. At the restart, Cook went attempted to pass Rondet in turn-3 with both side by side nearly banging wheels. Koster was behind and ready to pounce on any misfortune. As he would have it, Cook's attempt cost him valuable speed and by the middle of the lap, Koster passed him for third. His opponent Rondet was next. A slippery track was keeping everyone attention as small plumes of dust were appearing everywhere, each driver testing his and the track's limits.

"It's great to feel the support of everybody. It was looking pretty bad this morning, but luckily we turned everything around in the warm-up and had a car capable of running at the front. All I had to do now was drive the wheels off of it and that's what I did. I have to say thanks to a lot of guys for being heads up, because I was really giving it all. Sorry to Nicolas for the slight contact," relayed Koster. "I've got to be happy with my performance though. I really feel I've gotten the maximum out of this year, and I'm happy for Nicolas who has been the most consistent this year. Also thanks to everyone at Skip Barber for all the support especially Rick Ratacjczak and my mechanic Bill Henderson."

With ten minutes remaining, Plumb led Rondet, Koster, Cook Marc Breuers and Sperafico, all running closely together. Finally Koster made his move with four laps to go. Racing up to the Corkscrew, Koster went inside of Rondet, leaving all his braking to the last possible centimeter. Somewhat surprisingly, Rondet defended, and as two doesn't fit into one, both cars touched briefly sending Rondet into a half spin in the middle of the Corkscrew. He recovered quickly, but not after losing two spots. When they came around again, Koster was now in a title winning second place, but only if Rondet were in eighth place or lower. Rondet slotted into fourth. Cook in the meantime was all over Koster, and desperate to get by feigning left then right into the corners.

"I'm feeling great right now and I want to say thank you to everybody who was by my side even when I was down. Some people held my hand and said go ahead you can do it. I did my best, passing the people I needed to pass. I can't express how I feel right now, but my tanks to everybody who was by my side," said Sperafico.

On the last lap, Cook made his move, but Koster would have none of it. Cook slid wide out of the Corkscrew. In the process Sperafico got by Rondet, who in turn got by Cook. The checkered flag fell on Plumb who had been nearly flawless all weekend, leading all but one of the on-track sessions. In the process he set the fastest lap of the race, thus taking a maximum 22 points that would see him tie Koster in the final standings on points. Koster did all he could to win the title, but with Rondet comfortably ensconced in fourth place, the crown would go to the Frenchman. Sperafico held onto third, and thus became the Rookie of the Year.


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