Two More Races, Two More Victories For J.R. Hildebrand Portland, Ore. (June 18, 2006) -- J.R. Hildebrand turned in another remarkable display of his talent by claiming a brace of victories this weekend on his first-ever visit to the Portland ...
Two More Races, Two More Victories For J.R. Hildebrand
Portland, Ore. (June 18, 2006) -- J.R. Hildebrand turned in another remarkable display of his talent by claiming a brace of victories this weekend on his first-ever visit to the Portland International Raceway road course. The 18-year-old standout from Sausalito, Calif., is now unbeaten in six Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 Championship races this season, matching the record set by last year's champion Jay Howard.
"It was another good weekend," said Hildebrand. "It was great to race in front of the Champ Car and Atlantic series teams and show what we can do, and to come away with two more wins is tremendously satisfying."
New Zealander Andy Knight sprung to prominence by finishing second on Saturday and posting the fastest lap during a fine comeback charge on Sunday after a first-lap incident in a very scrappy affair, while Pacific F2000 Championship leader Robert Podlesni capped an impressive Cooper Series foray by securing a pair of podium finishes.
The opportunity to compete at the Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland attracted a high-quality field of 27 cars to PIR, with a smattering of West Coast contenders seeking to take on the established Cooper Series stars.
Hildebrand once again was the man to beat, posting the fastest lap in qualifying on Saturday morning and securing the pole for the first of two 30-minute races in the Cape Motorsports team's #2 Formotion/Spy Optics/Mockett.com Van Diemen RF05. Venezuelan Ricardo Vassmer (#25 Meridiano TV/Santa Barbara Air Van Diemen RF06) started on the outside of the front row on his first appearance for the JDC Motorsports team.
Hildebrand jumped immediately into the lead on Saturday afternoon, while Knight's #33 Latimer Hotel/G.FRO Van Diemen emerged in second after the predictable first-corner scramble into the Festival Curves.
Knight, who was relishing the opportunity to work with veteran driver-turned-race engineer Bill Fickling for the first time, kept Hildebrand under pressure during the opening stages. Soon, though, the Kiwi driver began to struggle with oversteer and Hildebrand was able to edge away to secure a comfortable victory.
Podlesni (#84 Dave Freitas Racing Van Diemen RF03) had slipped back into the pack after the early skirmishes, but the 18-year-old from Thousand Oaks, Calif., mounted a spirited charge toward the front, and Knight needed to employ some robust defensive tactics to keep "Poodles" at bay at the checkered flag.
Another West Coast driver, Nick Haye, from Huntington Beach, Calif., took a game fourth in his #4 PR1 Motorsports Mygale SJ04, followed by the unlucky Vassmer who was another to lose positions at the start.
Sunday's race was far more fraught, peppered with full-course caution periods and even ending under the red flag followed a frightening accident that saw Chris Hundley's #31 The Limousine Connection/G.FRO Van Diemen flipping wildly on the back straightaway. Hundley, from North Hollywood, Calif., was fortunate to emerge unscathed.
Jason Byers, from Livonia, Mich., chose to short-cut the Festival Curves to avoid a huge first-corner melee, and in the process vaulted his #28 A&B Refrigeration/St. Clair Motorsports Van Diemen RF03 into the lead from sixth on the grid. He led for several laps before Hildebrand regained the point with an expertly judged pass under braking for the Festival Curves. Podlesni also worked his way past Byers with a bold maneuver on the back straightaway. The stage seemed to be set for an eagerly awaited tussle between the East and West Coast championship leaders.
Sadly, it didn't come to pass due to a series of incidents. At one of the restarts, another talented teenager, Shaun Modisette, from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., pulled off a sensational move under braking for the Festival Curves, moving his #26 Carson Trailer/Ray Stephens Racing Van Diemen RF01 all the way from fifth to first. Unfortunately for him, the race was red-flagged shortly thereafter, and with the positions having been shuffled confusingly when several drivers chose to short-cut the chicane in avoidance of yet another fracas, the officials posted the results according to the order at the end of the previous lap. Hildebrand thus was awarded the win ahead of Podlesni, Byers, Haye and Modisette.
The Cooper Series will continue next weekend with two more races, also in conjunction with the Champ Car World Series, at the fast Burke Lakefront Airport temporary circuit in downtown Cleveland, Ohio.