Rain or Shine, Podlesni Leads The Way at California Speedway Fontana, Calif. (March 19, 2006) -- Robert Podlesni didn't top the times in qualifying on either day at California Speedway this weekend, but when it mattered, the 18-year-old from ...
Rain or Shine, Podlesni Leads The Way at California Speedway
Fontana, Calif. (March 19, 2006) -- Robert Podlesni didn't top the times in qualifying on either day at California Speedway this weekend, but when it mattered, the 18-year-old from Thousand Oaks, Calif., came through to earn two dramatic victories, catapulting himself into the lead of the Pacific F2000 Championship Presented by Hankook point standings after four of 12 races.
On Saturday, after qualifying third fastest in Dave Freitas Racing's #84 Van Diemen RF03, Podlesni waged a thrilling battle with fellow teenagers Nick Haye, from Huntington Beach, Calif., and Chris Spreitzer, from Phoenix, Ariz. The following day's race was thrown into chaos by a heavy rain shower as the cars were lining up on the grid, but again Podlesni was the master, storming through at the start and never relinquishing his advantage on a treacherous track. Haye again finished second in his #4 PR1 Motorsports Mygale SJ05, while Tim Harris -- who took the pole on both days in the #20 Apex Fire Systems/Carson Trailer/Ray Stephens Racing Mygale SJ05 -- finished a strong third.
The opening race was held in dry conditions, despite some threatening clouds moving in and depositing a few drops of moisture just before the race was about to start.
Podlesni made a flier of a getaway from the second row and went wheel-to-wheel with polesitter Harris around the banked Turns One and Two.
"I pulled out to pass him and got on the brakes [for Turn Three] and we both locked up," related Podlesni. "Fortunately I didn't go quite as deep as him and was able to get around."
Harris, meanwhile, slipped back into the pack and eventually finished a disappointed seventh.
"It was a struggle," admitted Harris. "I locked up the brakes at the first corner and ran a little wide and lost a few positions. During the scratch back to the front, I had a spin. I felt I was quicker than the guys I was dicing with at the end, but I couldn't get past so I had to settle for what I had."
Podlesni made full use of his blinding start to pull out a lead, but before long he was being reeled in by outside front row starter Haye and Spreitzer, who somehow catapulted his #7 Climatec Inc./Anglo American/BWM Engineering Van Diemen RF02 from seventh to second during the opening sprint.
The threesome enjoyed a tremendous tussle for the most of the race. Haye soon regained second place, then took the lead with a bold move at the end of the back straightaway on lap seven. But Podlesni kept his cool and regained the advantage by out-braking his rival coming off the banking and into Turn Three just a couple of laps later.
Spreitzer remained tucked in their wheel tracks and even made a bid for second place on the final lap at Turn Three, but succeeded only in costing both himself and Haye some time and enabling "Poodles" to secure the victory.
"It was an awesome race," declared Spreitzer. "Nick passed me and I just stayed with him and we caught back up to the leader and we stayed together the whole race. The car was excellent all weekend and it was a lot of fun."
Teammate Todd MacNaughton, from Honolulu, Hawaii, finished a strong fourth in his #8 Goto Construction/BWM Engineering Van Diemen RF03, while former SCCA Formula Ford National Champion Scott Rarick, from Santa Monica, Calif., took fifth in the rapidly improving #34 Piper/Red Line Piper DF5.
Greg Minium (#12 Law Offices of Kolod-Wager/Baccarella Insurance Mygale SJ03) won the Hard Charger Award for an impressive drive from 16th on the grid to fifth at the checkered flag, while Les Phillips (#89 Swiss Motorsports Mygale SJ04), from Bakersfield, Calif., was the highest-finishing Masters contender (for drivers over 40 years of age) in sixth.
RACER magazine editor Efrain Olivares Jr. won the National class (for older Pinto-engined cars) by virtue of placing 15th overall in his #92 Arquitaller Van Diemen RF97.
Confusion reigned as the heavens opened while the cars were lined up prior to the start of Sunday afternoon's race. A few teams made a last-minute decision to switch to wet weather Hankook tires on the grid, while others came in for grooved rubber after one or other of the two pace laps prior to the race being started -- on what was by now a totally drenched race track.
Podlesni and Haye, who had stopped after one slippery trip around the 2.8-mile road course, immediately vaulted to the front when the green flag was waved, and Podlesni proceeded to romp away into the distance. The youngster turned a string of impressive laps and was well clear of the field when rookie Chief Steward (and former Super Vee racer) Dave Whitney wisely called the race to a halt after seven laps when the heavy rain turned abruptly into a hail storm and left the track completely awash. (So much for sunny Southern California!)
"That was probably the highlight of my Zetec career so far," said a delighted Podlesni after notching his second win of the weekend. "The first five laps I started to pull away, and then all of a sudden there was a torrential downpour. It was just a case of floating around the track rather than driving on it.
"I couldn't be happier," he exclaimed. "I won in the rain and the dry, so I'm ecstatic; and we're in the championship lead!"
Haye took another accomplished second-place finish, while Harris, who relinquished his pole position when he made a pit stop to change to wet tires, finished a strong third.
"I was quite happy being the quickest car in qualifying on both days," concluded Harris, from Irvine, Calif. "I was very proud of that."
Chris Hundley (#31 Limousine Connection/NAPA/Denso/G.FRO Van Diemen RF05), from Hollywood, Calif., drove well to finish fourth -- and take the Masters class honors -- ahead of teenager Shaun Modisette, from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., who took a career-best fifth in his #26 Carson Trailer/Ray Stephens Racing Van Diemen RF01.
Spare a thought, too, for Huntington Beach, Calif.'s Dennis Goughary, who (due to a mishap in the pits) overcame the handicap of one dry weather tire and three wets (!) on his #24 Shamrock Investment/Landmark Motorsport Carbir DS3 to finish an amazing ninth, having started back in 19th. Goughary's efforts earned him the award as top National class finisher.
Al Salvo (#23 Miracle Sealants/PR1 Motorsports Mygale SJ04), from Arcadia, Calif., took the Hard Charger Award after climbing from 16th on the grid to sixth.