Sebring: Round one race report

Allmendinger Wins First Race Cook and Campos Second, Third (SEBRING, Fla.) March 16, 2002 -He said it was the longest 40 minutes of his life, but in the end, it was worth the wait. A.J. Allmendinger from Hollister, Calif. scored his first...

Allmendinger Wins First Race
Cook and Campos Second, Third

(SEBRING, Fla.) March 16, 2002 -He said it was the longest 40 minutes of his life, but in the end, it was worth the wait. A.J. Allmendinger from Hollister, Calif. scored his first Barber Dodge Pro Series career victory in the opening round of the 2002 season at Sebring International Raceway. From the pole, Allmendinger relinquished the lead to eventual second-place finisher Davy Cook, but after settling the nerves, he retook the lead for keeps, just before the halfway point. Cook earned a career best finish as did Julio Campos who finished third in his first career start. Allmendinger leaves scoring a 22 out of 23 maximum point by virtue of taking the win, pole and fastest race lap.

"I far surpassed my expectations this weekend. I came in hoping to have a clean week and finish in the top-5. But to get the pole and win makes me really excited to go to (the next race) Lime Rock now. I really have to thank my mechanic, Kent, and the rest of the Barber Dodge coaching and technical staff for really staying on top of the car and helping me out," said Allmendinger, 18. "At the start, there were a lot of nerves. Davy got a great start and got around me. I got him back but I was still a little unsettled and dropped a wheel (off track) a few times. He got around me again and I knew just had to settle down. My car got faster through the race and I caught him in turn-1, then he made a little mistake in turn-2 and I was able to get by in turn-3."

Cook indeed timed the start well. By the entry to the first turn, Cook assumed the early lead. Campos as well made a good start, pressuring Nilton Rossoni for third. Cook led the first lap; however, early into the second lap, Allmendinger passed Cook as they entered turn-3 side by side. By the next lap Campos got ahead of Rossoni and so the order would be Allmendinger ahead of Cook, while Campos, several car lengths behind, led Rossoni and Memo Rojas.

Allmendinger's lead wouldn't last. Twice on the same lap, he edged slightly off track and when they came around to start lap-5 it was the yellow and black HMS Motorsports Dodge Reynard of Cook on point. The order would remain the same for four laps with Cook and Allmendinger increasing their lead over Campos, Rossoni and Rojas. Suddenly, Cook lost time in turn-15 and later in the same lap Campos would spin in turn-17 and continue but not before losing a place.

Just before midway, Allmendinger made his move again in turn-3, reassuming the lead that would be his for the balance. Cook kept the gap to within a second until the final two laps but never came close enough again to challenge. Christian Szymczak was making moves coming from the ninth starting spot to claim fifth place.

Campos meanwhile had recovered from his spin to catch Rossoni who was running five seconds behind Cook. With three laps remaining in the 40-minute race, Campos set up a draft down the long Ullman Straight into turn-17 and by mid-corner had bettered Rossoni for third place.

"I was running a lower wing than A.J. so I was faster on the straights, but he was doing things in Turn-17 that I couldn't compete with," said Cook of Tallahassee, Fla., 19. "I missed a downshift in turn-3 with four laps to go, and went wide and by that point, I knew that A.J. took care of his tires, so I just thought about the championship and took second place."

Campos, the 2001 Skip Barber Formula Dodge National Champion (ahead of Allmendinger) certainly worked for his first podium in his professional race start. He passed former Series champion and former Sebring race-winner Rossoni not once but twice for the position.

"When I passed Nilton the first time, I looked ahead and saw A.J. and Davy and I kept pushing and pushing to catch them. Then I made a mistake in turn-17, trying to drive the car too hard. When I got going again, I was behind Nilton once more and I thought, 'forget about the race, I have to finish third,'" said Campos, 20, from Curitiba, Brazil. "The crew and the driver coaches helped me out a lot a I am very happy to be near the front of the championship."

Rossoni duly finished fourth ahead of Szymczak, a career best for the Oaklander. Barber-CART Big Scholarship winner Leonardo Maia finished sixth, thankful that his mechanic had remedied a shock problem before the race start. Canadian Josh Beaulieu finished seventh ahead of Finn Hannu Wiinikainen, both drivers contesting their first Barber Dodge race. Marc Breuers overcame a tough start, losing his fourth position on the grid, forcing him to take the green flag from the final row of the pack. He fought gamely to finish ninth. Tom Fogarty rounded out the top-10.

Round 2 of the 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series takes place at Lime Rock Park on May 2


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Series Barber Pro
Drivers Josh Beaulieu , Christian Szymczak , Davy Cook , Julio Campos , Memo Rojas , Leonardo Maia , Tom Fogarty , A.J. Allmendinger , Skip Barber