St. Pete: Race report

Maia goes flag to flag for St. Pete win. (St. Petersburg, Fla.) February 22- Leo Maia of Miami, Florida converted his second-ever pole position start into his second career win in the Barber Dodge Pro Series as he drove a flawless race, leading...

Maia goes flag to flag for St. Pete win.

(St. Petersburg, Fla.) February 22- Leo Maia of Miami, Florida converted his second-ever pole position start into his second career win in the Barber Dodge Pro Series as he drove a flawless race, leading from flag to flag on the 1.806-mile temporary street circuit to take the win over second-place finisher Dan Di Leo, with Memo Rojas coming home in third. Scott Poirier of Deerfield Beach, Florida finished an outstanding fourth in just his first Barber Dodge Pro Series start, with Chris Green fighting his way up into fifth from his tenth starting spot. Burt Frisselle moved up from the eighth starting position to take sixth at the finish. Alex Sperafico of Taledo Parana, Brazil took the seventh spot while German Quiroga of Mexico moved from fifteenth to take the eighth spot in his Gigante-Reynard. Guy Cosmo, the 2002 Formula Mazda Champion , also made a move to the front with his drive from twelfth into ninth. Nelson Phillippe of Valence, France came home in tenth, one spot ahead of Al Unser.

Leonardo Maia leads the field.
Photo by Jack Durbin.

Maia was overjoyed with his win, and insisted that it wasn't as easy at it looked, as his large gap to second place was threatened several times, first by lapped traffic, and then again when the yellow flag came out with just two laps remaining.

"The lapped traffic did a good job of getting out of my way, but it still slowed me down enough to let Dan get close to me," said Maia. "But I had a good restart, and made it to the finish. It was a great weekend for me, we were fast from the very start, and able to keep that speed up through the weekend."

Di Leo, driving the Select Auto Collision car, had hoped to have a run at taking the lead from Maia, but never found the opportunity. While he had been aiming for victory, the young Canadian knows how tight the points battle can be, and was glad to get a strong points finish, including winning the bonus lap for running the fastest lap of the race.

"It was a fun fight up front," said Di Leo. "I was losing time at the beginning, so I knew I had to make a move on Memo since I could see that Leo was pulling out a gap. Once I got by him, I just put my head down and tried to close in to him, and the traffic really worked to my advantage as well. When the yellow came out at the end, I thought that that was going to be my chance, but Leo got a good restart, and that was that. I wanted a win, but I guess that's why we will be going to Mexico next!"

Memo Rojas was happy with the result, and is looking forward to the next race in his home country when the Pro Series races next in Monterrey, Mexico.

"I am happy to score some points for the season, and looking forward to racing in Mexico next month after getting this good result," said Rojas. "It was a good clean race with everyone giving enough room to pass, and it was really close on many occasions. Its going to be really competitive season I can tell right now."

The forty-minute race ran under threatening skies as a large storm front rolled in across the bay. The race began slightly early to provide a better chance of a full dry race, and the timing was perfect. Maia led the field to the flag and there was a wide flare for turn one, but the pack made it through turns one, two and three cleanly, then strung out into a single file line for part of the first lap with Maia heading Josh Beaulieu, Di Leo, and Rojas. But with a field full of hard chargers, this didn't last for long, as Rojas made a move inside of Di Leo to take the third spot. On the next lap, Beaulieu quickly moved into to have a look underneath Maia, but carried too much speed through the five-six-seven complex, clipping the wall and ending his race early with suspension damage. Proirier began to pressure Di Leo as Maia was enjoying the show behind in his mirrors, which let him concentrate on getting his tires up to tempurature and setting some fast laps to stretch his lead.

Behind the front pack, Antoine Bessette made a move to pass Sperafico after he locked up under braking, giving the young Frenchman the opportunity to get by. Di Leo was building the pressure on Rojas, but the young Mexican proved to be difficult to pass. On lap ten, Di leo made a run at Rojas again coming out of turn thirteen after Rojas went slightly wide, and Di Leo made the pass stick as the two entered turn one.

Maia continued to cruise, building up a 4.3-second gap over Di Leo, who now put his head down and began setting some very fast race laps to cut the gap down to the leader each lap. Chris Green, who had been following in the tire tracks of Sperafico, made a move inside under braking to take the sixth spot. Mexican Luis Pelayo, driving the Telmex machine, had been following the battle between Sperafico and Green, and took his own shot at the position, getting by Sperafico on lap 15 to take the spot.

On lap 16, the race passed the twenty minute mark, making the race official in case the rains, which continued to threaten, were to come. Di Leo knew that time was running out, and kept up his pursuit of Maia, setting the fastest lap of the race along the way with a blistering 1:13.932 second run. Things seemed to start to look to be going Di Leo's way as lapped traffic slowed Maia enough to bring him into Di Leo's sights.

Scott Proirier and Memo Rojas continued to run nose to tail, with Proirier shadowing Rojas' every move. Proirier made his move on lap 13 with a bold pass, only to have Rojas retake the spot a few corners later. Proirier continued to shadow Rojas until he used too much of the run off in turn thirteen, slapping his left rear tire against the wall. Rojas was then able to pull out the gap over Proirier as the young Floridian protected his equipment to bring it home safely.

The yellow flag was brought out late in the race to clean up debris on the track, and as the field went back to green, Di Leo tried to make a move on Maia, but wasn't able to threaten for the spot. A tangle on the back section of the track involving Luis Pelayo, who had moved up the ranks during the race, and Antoine Bessette brought out the yellow and the white flag just as rain began to fall on the track.

The Barber Dodge Pro Series will race next on the weekend of March 21-23 at Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico.

The Barber Dodge Pro Series is the Official Entry Level Professional Series of Champ Car. The drivers utilize identically prepared single seat open wheel Reynard-Dodge racecars. Barber Dodge Pro Series provides a level playing field where driving talent, not financial resources, play the decisive role. This state-of-the-art platform, with its carbon composite construction, raised nose and 6-speed sequential gearbox, takes full advantage of the 265hp all aluminum Dodge V6 Intrepid motor that is exclusive to this series. Additionally, all of the Barber Dodges compete on identical Michelin Pilot racing slicks.

To ensure absolute equality for all competitors, the Barber Dodge Pro Series owns, maintains, prepares and transports all the cars and equipment. This serves to control costs while allowing the drivers to concentrate solely on developing their driving skills. The Barber Dodge Pro Series rewards those with dedication and skill with true financial incentive - an incredible $55,100 in prize money is available for each Barber Dodge Pro Series event with $13,000 going to the race winner. The overall Series Champion receives a $100,000 scholarship towards entry in the Toyota Atlantic Championship, and the series Rookie of the Year receives $185,000 in career enhancement funding. In total, the Barber Dodge Pro Series pays out over $1 million annually in prize money, contingencies and scholarships.

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Series Barber Pro
Drivers Guy Cosmo , Al Unser Sr. , Josh Beaulieu , German Quiroga , Memo Rojas , Leonardo Maia , Burt Frisselle , Scott Poirier , Chris Green , Luis Pelayo , Alex Sperafico , Antoine Bessette