St. Pete: Season opener preview

This weekend's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg marks the start of the 18th season of competition for the Barber Dodge Pro Series and will see 27 racers compete on the 1.806-mile temporary street circuit as they try to stake their claim to the ...

This weekend's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg marks the start of the 18th season of competition for the Barber Dodge Pro Series and will see 27 racers compete on the 1.806-mile temporary street circuit as they try to stake their claim to the championship. The Barber Dodge Pro Series, the Official Entry Level Racing Series of Champ Car, will feature ten rounds of competition with every race taking place in support of the Champ Car World Series. The field of talented racers hopes to convert success in the Pro Series into a step up the ladder, the same way Juan Montoya, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and A.J. Allmendinger have done before them. Driving identically prepared Dodge-powered Reynard 98E's equipped with Michelin Pilot SX tires, the 2003 field, with its mix of returning drivers and swift rookies, should spawn some exciting and close racing in the intense quest for the $100,000 top-prize and the over $1 million total purse.

Five drivers in the field arrive in St. Petersburg after having secured funding at the Barber-Champ Car Run Off in December as part of he Barber-Champ Car Ladder System, which aims to provide opportunity for young talent to move through the ranks of Skip Barber competition, from the Formula Dodge National Championship presented by Racer, into the Barber Dodge Pro Series, and onward, with the goal of earning an opportunity in the Champ Car World Series.

Colin Fleming of North Hills, California won the top prize, and has one goal in mind, to convert his opportunity into a championship. There are several drivers determined to make that difficult for Fleming, though, including Scott Proirier of Deerfield Beach, Florida, Burt Frisselle of Kihei, Hawaii, Robbie Montinola of Laguna Beach, California, and Al Unser, who will make his professional race debut at St. Petersburg this weekend.

Barber Dodge Pro Series Director Rick Ratajczak believes that 2003 could prove to be one of the most wide-open of championships that the Series has seen in years.

"We have a great mix of guys this season, with the combination of returning talent and new fast drivers who will be looking to make a name for themselves in the Series," said Ratajczak. "It should prove to be as competitive a Barber Dodge Championship as ever."

Leo Maia, who was the Barber-Champ Car Scholarship winner in 2002, returns to the Pro Series for the 2003 season and has had the opportunity to get a look at the facility in St. Petersburg, and is looking forward to racing on the streets.

"It's a really cool layout, and the city has done a really good job of preparing the track," said Maia, who finished sixth in the 2002 point standings with one win to his credit. "It looks like its going to be really fast, with some quick corners and wide passing areas. The city is also absolutely beautiful, and the track is right next to the water, so it should be a great weekend"

Along with Maia, drivers returning to the series will include Canadian Dan Di Leo, who finished 4th in the championship last season, as well as Josh Beaulieu of Langley, British Columbia, who took ninth in the season standings. Alex Sperafico, who raced in F3000 last season with European Minardi will be making his first start in the Barber Dodge Pro Series in over two years. Mexican Memo Rojas is aiming for the championship as well as his first win, having taken three runner-up finishes in 2002.

Chris Baker of Atlanta, Georgia, will be back for his second season in the Pro Series, and will aim to continue his move up the charts. Atticus Missner has also continued to build speed in the Reynard 98E during the off-season testing, and German Quiorga of Mexico City, Mexico had several strong finishes to close out the 2002 season, and is hoping to keep moving up towards the top of the podium.

New drivers to the Pro Series include young Chris Green from Beaconsfield, Quebec, 2002 Formula Mazda Champion Guy Cosmo, as well as French entrant Nelson Phillippe.

The first on-track session of the weekend will take place at 9:00 am for the opening practice session, and the field will have to come up to speed quickly, as they will be qualifying the next time out, at 1:30 pm on Friday. Final qualifying will take place at 10:00 am on Saturday, with the race time scheduled for 3:45 pm.

Full results and story to be posted at www.barberdodge.com

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.

Notes:

International Entry
Fourteen of the entered field hail from the United States, with the remainder of the field providing representation from all parts of the globe as the Pro Series has once again attracted international attention and participation. Memo Rojas, German Quiroga, and Luis Pelayo will fly Mexico's colors this season, with Antoine Bessette, Dan Di Leo, Chris Green, Mike Richardson, and Josh Beaulieu representing Canada. The Pro Series will race in Canada three times this season, and will race in Mexico for the first time at the Monterrey Grand Prix along with the Champ Car World Series in March. Shinji Kahima will make the long trip over from Tokyo, Japan for the race, and Victor Gonzalaz of Hatoray, Puerto Rico, and Nelson Phillipe of Valence, France round out the contingent of international competitors taking part in the season.

New Venue
The St. Petersburg event will l be the first of two new venues for the Barber Dodge Pro Series this season, as Round Two will be also be a new venue for the Pro Series when it visits Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico March 21-23. The Barber Dodge Pro Series raced previously in St. Petersburg in 1996 and 1997, when Mauro Fartuszek and Rino Mastrinardi took wins each of those years respectively.

Schedule

Friday:
9:00-9:40am Barber Dodge Pro Series Practice
1:30-2:05pm Barber Dodge Pro Series First Round Qualifying

Saturday:
9:00-9:40am Barber Dodge Pro Series Final Qualifying
3:45-4:30pm Barber Dodge Pro Series Race #1 of 10

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Series Barber Pro
Drivers Guy Cosmo , Josh Beaulieu , German Quiroga , Memo Rojas , Chris Baker , A.J. Allmendinger , Atticus Missner , Burt Frisselle , Colin Fleming , Skip Barber , Chris Green , Luis Pelayo , Alex Sperafico , Antoine Bessette , Al Unser , Nelson Philppe , Robbie Montinola