Sebring: Round one preview

WHAT: Round 1 of 10 of the 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series in support of Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring WHEN: Qualifying Thursday March 14 at 3:45 p.m. (30 minutes) Final Qualifying Friday March 15 at 8:55 a.m. (30 minutes) RACE START Saturday, March...

WHAT: Round 1 of 10 of the 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series in support of Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring

WHEN:
Qualifying Thursday March 14 at 3:45 p.m. (30 minutes)
Final Qualifying Friday March 15 at 8:55 a.m. (30 minutes)
RACE START Saturday, March 16 at 8:10 a.m. (40 Minutes)

WHERE: Sebring International Raceway, Sebring, Fla.

Strength in Depth

(SEBRING, Fla.) March 12, 2002 -Twenty-three drivers will take the first green flag of the 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series on Saturday, March 16 at Sebring International Raceway. In a series known for tight competition, 2002 might be the most competitive yet. Only six drivers return with a full season of competition under their belt, and only one of them has race victories to his credit, leaving 17 rookies and 22 non-race winners going for the glory. Not a single on of the top-5 drivers in the 2001 race at Sebring will return for this year's edition. That race not incidentally was a dandy, with several drivers putting on a clinic on the art of the breathtaking pass. Expect more of the same come Saturday morning when the race gets underway at 8:10 a.m.

The only driver with Barber Dodge race wins to his credit is a formidable foe for the rest of the field. 2000 champion Nilton Rossoni returns to rekindle his career after an aborted 2001 season in the Indy Lights series. In the process Rossoni hopes to do what only one other driver before him has done, win two Barber Dodge Pro Series titles (Jeff Simmons, 1998-99) and become the all-time wins leader in series history needing only two trips to victory lane to surpass Rob Wilson's mark of 11 victories. Rossini won at Sebring in 2000 in a dramatic penultimate lap pass on Michael Valiante.

2001 Barber-CART Rookie of the Year Rafael Sperafico aspires to continue his Barber-CART Scholarship trek, this time with the Career Enhancement Award bestowed on the series champion. With a full year of experience under his hat, he'll look to capitalize on the performances of last year that showed so much promise.

Floridian Davy Cook doggedly pursued Sperafico for the Rookie of the Year honor, all the way until the final laps of the last race of the season, and he is determined not to let another title slip from his grasp. Likewise, American Marc Breuers views his third season of Barber Dodge as the one he will make a mark on. Last year was a breakthrough for him, finishing sixth overall with a podium in Cleveland. Christian Szymczak and Tom Fogarty round out the field of those with at least a full season of Barber Dodge experience.

Rookies may likely to be the ones creating the headlines in 2002. It is unlikely in the 17-year history of the series to have had such depth among the freshman class. Barber-CART Scholarship winners Julio Campos and Leonardo Maia intend to lead the charge. Campos enters as the Skip Barber Formula Dodge National Champion, a title he earned from some very stiff competition in only his first year driving a racecar. Maia's scholarship is by virtue of winning the Barber-CART Big Scholarship Runoff in dominant fashion last December.

Mexican Telecom giant Telmex has high hopes for Memo Rojas and Piero Rodarte. In attempt to cultivate talent for their future motorsports programs, Telmex selected both Rojas and Rodarte from a deep pool of young Mexican talent to run their colors in the Barber Dodge Pro Series. Both drivers come to the series with experience in the US Formula Ford ranks. Rojas also has some previous Barber Dodge experience having raced at selected events in 1999.

American A.J. Allmendinger, a runner-up to Campos in the Skip Barber Formula Dodge National Championship who also had shone with Team USA in the New Zealand Formula Ford series in December will race at Sebring while he tries to finalize a package to enable him to see out the year. Similarly Canadian Daniel Di Leo, another Formula Dodge front runner enters Sebring focused on a solid result and the prospect of more racing throughout the season. Both drivers entered Barber Dodge races in 2001, showing well despite their limited experience. Allmendinger had a pair Top-10 finishes in three starts while Di Leo just missed out on a Top-10 in his only attempt.

Drivers from Europe, South America and Canada with experience in karting and variety of junior formulae add to the depth of the field. Most have little experience of the 3.7-mile Sebring circuit, but expect that to have little affect on the quality of their driving. Come Saturday morning it will truly be anyone's guess as to how the running order will look after 40-minutes of racing when the checkered flag falls on the first round of the Barber Dodge Pro Series, just prior to the historic 50th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring.

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About this article
Series Barber Pro
Drivers Michael Valiante , Christian Szymczak , Davy Cook , Julio Campos , Memo Rojas , Leonardo Maia , Tom Fogarty , A.J. Allmendinger , Marc Breuers , Rafael Sperafico , Nilton Rossoni , Skip Barber , Jeff Simmons