Team Chevy's Jason Hunt Captures Pro FWD Victory at NHRA Palm Beach Sport Compact Nationals Brian Ballard Wins Quick 16 Category for Chevy Cobalt WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., April 1, 2007 - A pair of Ecotec-powered Chevy Cobalts driven by Jason...
Team Chevy's Jason Hunt Captures Pro FWD Victory at NHRA Palm Beach Sport Compact Nationals
Brian Ballard Wins Quick 16 Category for Chevy Cobalt
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., April 1, 2007 - A pair of Ecotec-powered Chevy Cobalts driven by Jason Hunt and Brian Ballard doubled up with victories today at the season-opening NHRA Palm Beach Sport Compact Nationals at Moroso Motorsports Park. The 31-year-old Hunt, competing in his first NHRA event since a non race-related back injury cut his season short in 2006, captured the eliminator title in Pro FWD. Hunt's CSI Racing teammate Brian Ballard gave Chevy Cobalt its second straight Quick-16 crown at this contest, a race won last year by eventual 2006 Eastern Division champion Erica Nocita.
"This is the way you want to start a season," said Hunt. "It felt great to be back in the car, running laps and winning rounds. This Ecotec-powered Chevy Cobalt is like lightning and I'm glad I'm the one who gets to be behind the wheel. Considering what happened last year I'm a pretty lucky man just to be back out here."
Hunt entered the Sunday eliminator with his Matco Tools Chevy qualified in the No. 3 position after running 7.915 seconds at 193.17 mph (top speed of the meet). On raceday, Hunt's Cobalt picked up the pace posting a 7.579 e.t. at 192.59 mph in a round-one win over Team Chevy teammate Bryan Jimenez, an event-best e.t. of 7.552 seconds at 192.96 mph in round two against Chris Rado, and a final-round 7.688 second run at 192.51 mph against 2006 series champion Ed Bergenholtz. Bergenholtz' Mazda slowed to a 9.188 e.t. at 107.88 mph in the championship heat.
"We had to dig down here today to get the win," said Hunt. "We had some problems in qualifying, nothing major, but enough to keep us off the pole. Overall, qualifying is one thing but winning is what it's all about and what we came here for. As long as we got in the show it gave us the opportunity on Sunday to get in the winner's circle. This was a great way to start the season."
This was third time that Hunt had advanced to the final round of Pro FWD at Moroso Motorsports Park, his first win at this venue, and his fourth career victory as a professional NHRA Sport Compact competitor. Hunt posted runners-up performances at last year's second race at Moroso and was runner-up to Bergenholtz at the 2005 season-opener. He leaves Florida in first place in the Pro FWD standings.
"We were having launch issues yesterday," explained Hunt. "We were struggling to 330 feet and then we charged hard at the end running over 190 mph. The Matco Tools Chevrolet not only picked up its performance today, but also its consistency. We went back to a setup we felt comfortable with, we fixed some problems and the car came back around. It all worked out today. We wanted to win here last year and now we got it done today. Hopefully this event is a good indicator for the rest of the year. We have to build a cushion on some of these guys because the competition will not let up. There are a lot of good racers in this class. Pro FWD is the best class in NHRA Sport Compact. It is the class to watch this year."
A total of four Ecotec-powered Chevy Cobalts, led by race winner Jason Hunt, qualified for the Sunday NHRA Sport Compact Pro FWD eliminator. After performing a last minute engine change before the final round of time trials, Bryan Jimenez capitalized on his last run on Saturday by moving to the No. 4 spot with an 8.114 e.t. at 175.19 mph. Jimenez lost in round one to Hunt.
"The guys were up all night working on the car trying to get it right," said Jimenez, who was runner-up at this event in 2006. "We put in a new transmission, a new gear box, new everything, and we thought we fixed the problem. I didn't have a second gear and lost the race. We'll go back home, test, and make sure it's right for Virginia. We're going to test until it's right. It's going to be difficult keeping up with these guys with the new cars, but we'll give them a challenge until our new car comes."
Gary Gardella debuted a new Red Bull Chevy Cobalt here this weekend and qualified in the No. 4 position with an 8.302 second run at 163.22 mph. Gardella was defeated in round one by Chris Rado.
"Testing went very well for us last Tuesday - we made about 10 good eighth-mile hits, so we were hoping for a better performance today," said Gardella. "We put our best foot forward, though. We got some real good data to look at from this weekend and we're working through the typical new-car stuff. I'm confident we'll be able to get a handle on it pretty quickly, but it's going to take a few more passes to get the car where we want it. We have three weeks until we race again and we plan on testing for a full week to make sure we get it right. We need track time and experience with car and that will come with time."
Marty Ladwig qualified his Lucas Oil Chevrolet in the No. 4 position with an 8.321 e.t at 128.86 mph. He lost in round one to Bergenholtz.
"We're happy just to be here making laps," said Ladwig. "We got both team Cobalts qualified and that was the main goal. This car will eventually be one of the top runners in this class, so I'm not too concerned with our performance today. We had hoped to go past first round but we got some really good data on a brand-new racecar at the beginning of the season. Our short times have really improved - we had the best numbers of anybody from the starting line to the eighth-mile. We had too much boost on the top end, the tires started to spin, I got out of the groove and got out of it. It's the first race - no need to tear up anything. The car ran great, though, and we'll be ready for Richmond."
In the Quick 16 category, Brian Ballard started in the top half of the field when he qualified his K & N Filters Chevy Cobalt in the No. 8 slot with a 9.650 second run at 149.27 mph. Ballard then methodically made his way through a field of challengers to capture his first win in the ultra-competitive sportsman category and a foothold on first place in the Quick 16 Eastern Division.
"We haven't run NHRA in a year and to come out at the first event and win a 'Wally' is a great feeling," said Ballard. "We beat all kinds of different race setups and configurations today and our Chevy Cobalt was about as reliable and consistent as you would ever want. We had the benefit of being the quicker car in every round, we got to leave second and that triggered a couple of red lights against us. I guess the competition was intimidated by the consistency of our Ecotec-powered Cobalt. It was a good weekend."
Marty Ladwig's teammate, Julie Stepan made her debut in the All Motor category driving a second Chevy Cobalt out of the Lucas Oil Racing camp. Stepan qualified eighth with a 12.55 second run at 104.93 mph and defeated No. 1 qualifier Leslie Armendariz in round one before losing to Norris Prayoonto in round two.
"It was good just to qualify and to go a round," said Stepan. "With all the storms and rain we had back in Texas, it was hard getting our race crew here and in place. But this was a lot of fun. This is our first race in the Lucas Oil Chevrolet in All Motor, so it will take some time to get used to, but to take out the No. 1 qualifier, you can't ask for much more than that."
The series pauses for three weeks and then returns to action at the second annual Virginia NHRA Sport Compact Nationals on April 21 - 22 at Virginia Motorsports Park in Richmond, Va.
-credit: gm racing