(VANCOUVER, B.C.) August 31, 2001-Frenchman Nicolas Rondet is driving like he wants to win the Barber Dodge Pro Series title. Taking the provisional pole in the No. 24 Mini Vacations Dodge Reynard for the penultimate round of the 2001 Barber...
(VANCOUVER, B.C.) August 31, 2001-Frenchman Nicolas Rondet is driving like he wants to win the Barber Dodge Pro Series title. Taking the provisional pole in the No. 24 Mini Vacations Dodge Reynard for the penultimate round of the 2001 Barber Dodge Pro Series has edged him a little bit closer. Needing to leave Vancouver with 29-point margin over his nearest competitor would clinch him the overall honor with one race to spare; the point for pole would fit well into the plan. Rondet set a new provisional record of 1:15.349 sec. around the 1.781-mile Concord Pacific Place Circuit for an average speed of 85.092 mph. Ensuring that his title hopes remain afloat, Roger Yasukawa lines up provisionally alongside Rondet on the front row while Marc Breuers fills the third spot on the grid. With the specter of rain looming over the final qualifying session tomorrow morning, the results from today may prove pivotal. His closest pursuers for the overall crown, Sepp Koster and Matt Plumb ended the day fourth and fifth best respectively.
"We absolutely had to go fast straight away today because all the talk has been about rain tomorrow," said Rondet who currently lives in San Diego, Calif. "This circuit is fun with lots of motion and variety which makes different from the typical 90-degree corner street circuit. This year I've struggled to find the right balance on these types of tracks, but I'm confident I've got it this weekend."
Rondet demonstrated early on that he would be quick as he set the mark to beat straight out of the box. Yasukawa was the next to lower as the field neared the halfway-point in the session, which was stopped to recover the stricken car of a disappointed Jon Morley. The rookie leader threw his hands up, disappointed to have made a mistake on cold tires. With Yasukawa setting the pace at 1:16.748 sec., Ryan Hunter-Reay went second quickest but unfortunately it would be his best on the day. A faulty gearbox forced the Barber-CART Scholarship Team driver to park his car just past midway in the 30-minute session.
Another Barber-CART Scholarship team driver came close to swiping the pole, this time in the form of Rafael Sperafico going second quick. Then in the 16th minute, Rondet once again returned to the fore. His lap of 1:16.529 sec. would last for two minutes before Yasukawa really turned up the wick to eclipse the existing track record with a lap of 1:15.881sec. Koster leapt into second place while rookie sensation A.J. Allmendinger slotted into fourth in his first ever-street race. Koster went one better at the 20-minute mark dipping the standard to 1:15.832 sec. Rondet then stepped it up. His lap of 1:15.636 sec. in the 22nd minute would be bettered only be his own last lap attempt in the 28th minute bringing the time to beat to 1:15.349 sec.
Yasukawa sliced another tenth of a second off of his time in the waning minutes but it would not see him better his position.
"I feel like I had some bad luck at the beginning of the season but the last half of the year I've turned that around and been driving really well," said Yasukawa who pilots the Tokyo Ueno Clinic Dodge Reynard. "Second place is a good place to be on this race in case it does rain and I really like the street courses so I'm looking forward to try and get that first win."
Breuers led the morning practice session and had been as high as third in the early part of the qualifying session. He slipped back to the bottom half of the Top-10 midway through only to begin reeling off a set of fast laps in the last ten minutes that would move him up to fifth place and finally third on the grid.
"I'm a big fan of the street circuits so I'm glad to be here," said Breuers of Philadelphia, Penn. "The track was slippery in the morning but as we got more laps in the grip improved and the No. 94 Sunoco Special felt like it was on rails."
Plumb had strangely not been a factor throughout the session given his obvious love of this venue, site of his first Barber Dodge victory. With only minutes to go he made his move but fifth was the best on the day. Koster finished one spot ahead in fourth. A fast lap may have been on the table for either Koster or Plumb, but the session ended a minute and a half prematurely when Rene Bauer nudged a tire barrier stranding him in a precarious spot.
Christian Szymczak was another late comer sneaking into sixth as the session neared its conclusion followed by rookie of the year hopeful Sperafico in seventh place. Allmendinger continued his good form managing to go eighth quickest. Davy Cook, another rookie of the year contender took the provisional ninth place on the grid while Akihira Okamoto continues to drive strongly rounding out the Top-10.
Final qualifying takes place rain or shine Saturday September 1, at 8:30 a.m. in preparation for the race start later the same afternoon at 3:15 p.m. PDT. As always, all the action can be followed live at barberdodge.com.