NA-F2000: Toronto preview

Future Stars on Show as Cooper Tires FF2000 Series Heads For Toronto Palmetto, Fla. (July 5, 2006) -- Toronto's own Paul Tracy is among many top-line auto racing stars who competed in Formula Ford 2000 during the formative stages of their...

Future Stars on Show as Cooper Tires FF2000 Series Heads For Toronto

Palmetto, Fla. (July 5, 2006) -- Toronto's own Paul Tracy is among many top-line auto racing stars who competed in Formula Ford 2000 during the formative stages of their careers. Fellow former Champ Car World Series champion Jimmy Vasser is another. So, too, are Formula 1 World Champions Ayrton Senna and Damon Hill, and the three most recent winners of the Indianapolis 500 -- Buddy Rice, Dan Wheldon and Sam Hornish Jr.

A new crop of young talent hailing from all corners of the globe will be on display this weekend when the Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 Championship makes its first-ever visit to the fast and challenging Exhibition Place temporary circuit in Toronto, Canada, for the ninth and 10th rounds of the 14-race series.

J.R. Hildebrand, 18, from Sausalito, Calif., has marked his card for the future, establishing a new record by winning every one of the first seven races this season with the Cape Motorsports #2 Formotion/Spy Optics/ Van Diemen. Consequently, he carries a commanding points lead into this weekend.

The youngster's streak finally ended in the most recent race -- also held in conjunction with the Champ Car World Series -- in Cleveland, Ohio, two weeks ago, when he made a rare mistake (while in the lead) and handed the advantage to rookie teammate Dane Cameron. The 17-year-old from Sonoma, Calif., then proceeded to set a new lap record as he cemented his position at the front of the field and guided the #19 Finlay Motorsports/Jim Russell Racing School/Red Line Oil Van Diemen to an impressive victory.

"We knew we could win some races this year," said Cameron, who also qualified on pole at Cleveland and now lies second in the points table. "J.R.'s been perfect up until now, but we've broken the streak and it feels good."

The two gifted Californians will start this weekend as favorites, although they will face plenty of stiff opposition.

Ricardo Vassmer, from Caracas, Venezuela, boosted his confidence with a pair of top-four finishes at Cleveland and now has his sights set firmly on scoring his first win with the JDC Motorsports #25 Meridiano Television/Santa Barbara Airlines Van Diemen.

A handful of top-five finishes, highlighted by a second at Portland, have proven the competitiveness of another talented rookie, Andy Knight, from Christchurch. New Zealand, who will line up in the G.FRO team's #33 Latimer Hotel/NAPA/Valvoline/Denso Van Diemen and continue to seek his first Northern Hemisphere win.

Another sure-fire front-runner will be Jason Byers, who currently lies third in the championship on the strength of five top-five finishes in the #28 A&B Refrigeration/St. Clair Motorsports Van Diemen. Byers, 47, from Livonia, Mich., also is a clear leader in the Cooper Masters stakes, for drivers over 35 years of age, proving once again that experience (a.k.a. "old age and treachery") can be at least a match for youthful exuberance.

Several Canadians also should be in the mix, including Sherbrooke's Olivier Comeau, who earned a pair of solid top-eight finishes two weeks ago in Cleveland at the wheel of the #65 Relais Pneu/Acier Orford/Pierre Vallee/RCGT/Via Route Van Diemen fielded by ex-Formula Ford front-runner David Clubine's Britain West team.

Another veteran racer/car owner, Brian Graham, from Berry, Ont., will be present with at least one Van Diemen for rapidly improving Mexican teenager Manuel Gutierrez, while Thornhill, Ont.-based Englishman Brent Gilkes will be vying for Cooper Gold Cup honors (for SCCA-spec Formula Continental cars powered by the older Ford "Pinto" engine) in the #73 Lap 2 Racing Van Diemen.

The Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 Championship is sanctioned by the National Auto Sports Association (NASA) and represents one of the first rungs on the professional open-wheel auto racing ladder in North America. It features single-seat race cars powered by 160 hp engines and running on "slick" (treadless) Cooper Zeon racing tires.

After two half-hour practice sessions on Friday and a lone qualifying session on Saturday morning, the first of two 30-minute races will start at 4:00 pm that same afternoon. Race Two will see the green flag at 3:30 pm on Sunday.

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Series Other open wheel
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Paul Tracy , Dan Wheldon , Ayrton Senna , Damon Hill , Buddy Rice , Brian Graham , Olivier Comeau , David Clubine , Dane Cameron , J.R. Hildebrand