North American Formula Renault 2000 Championship Ponte Perfect in Phoenix (Arizona,AZ) April 10, 2004--A new era began today as the lights went out for the start of the opening round race of the North American Formula Renault 2000 Championship...
North American Formula Renault 2000 Championship
Ponte Perfect in Phoenix
(Arizona,AZ) April 10, 2004--A new era began today as the lights went out for the start of the opening round race of the North American Formula Renault 2000 Championship at Phoenix International Raceway. Juan Martin Ponte of Concordia, Argentina, took the lead at the standing start, and led all 28 laps to take the checkered flag, imprinting his name in the history books as the first race winner in North American Formula Renault 2000 Championship competition.
Brazilian Marcos Gomes converted his second spot on the grid into second at the finish as he kept a dogged pursuit of Ponte, but was never able to close the gap. Mark Wilkins of Toronto worked his way to third place with an inspired drive which also saw him net the fastest lap of the race.
The race got of to a difficult start for Gustavo Sondermann in the second row, as he was slow to speed as the lights went out, and Aurelio Lopez had to swerve to avoid hitting him, and in the process making contact with a hapless Dan McMullen.
Sondermann got back up to speed quickly, but the race was over for McMullen and Lopez, both of whom were able to return to the pits without bringing out a yellow flag. The Formula Renault drivers put on a fine display of professionalism and maturity, as the race ran under green flag conditions for the entire distance.
Ponte's Eurointernational teammate, Ricardo Imery, also had a strong race as he finished fourth after having started seventh. Renato David finished fifth, with Antoine Bessette in sixth. Nick Bussell of Ionia, Michigan, moved up from tenth at the start to seventh at the finish, just a few feet behind Bessette at the finish. Gelles Racing's Sondermann rough race continued, as he ran in third position for much of the event before falling to eighth at the finish ahead of teammate Michael Yager. Calgary's Scott Robertson rounded out the top ten.
Ponte has been strong all weekend, spending most of the sessions atop the time sheets, and continued to assert control of the pace during the race as well.
"This is really important to start out the championship like this, so I am really happy!" said Ponte. "The track got very difficult in the hot conditions, but I was pushing every single lap to keep the gap up over Marcos. I am really happy because I know how hard it is to win--I haven't for over a year! I have to thank Eurointernational, as they have prepared an excellent race car for me all weekend."
Second place finisher Gomes, who has experience racing in the Formula Renault ranks in his native Brazil, came away from the race impressed with his competition.
"The level of competition is very good here, and the drivers were very mature on this tight track," said Gomes. "I was pushing to get close to Ponte, but I just didn't have the car to do that today, but its good for the points championship and I am looking forward to the next race!"
Wilkins had a much better day than his Aim Autosport teammate McMullen, as he emerged from a close battle with Sondermann which lasted for several laps, to take third late in the race as he made a bold pass under braking for the hairpin to take the spot.
"Aim Autosport did another fantastic job with the car this weekend, and I really enjoyed the battle with Gustavo," said Wilkins. "He put up a good fight, and it was defiantly a difficult track with the slippery conditions, but I am happy to be on the podium, and will be looking to achieve more at the next race back in Canada."
The North American Formula Renault 2000 Championship will race next at Mont Tremblant in Canada on the weekend of May 21-23.
The North American Formula Renault Championships are sanctioned by Grand American, and provide a ladder for drivers to develop their talent, with a full in-house open-wheel progression available. The 2004 season will get underway April 8-10 at Phoenix International Raceway.
The Formula Renault V6 Championship is the top rung on the North American Formula Renault Championship ladder, which also includes the North American Formula Renault 1600 Championship and the North American Formula Renault 2000 Championship. The Formula Renault V6 is expected to make its North American competition debut in the latter stages of the2004 North American Formula Renault 2000 season.