With the top-3 finishers in the 1999 Barber Dodge Pro Series graduating to the CART Dayton Indy Lights ranks for 2000, competition for the $300,000 Career Enhancement Award was ostensibly going to be a wide open affair. Pre-season testing ...
With the top-3 finishers in the 1999 Barber Dodge Pro Series graduating to the CART Dayton Indy Lights ranks for 2000, competition for the $300,000 Career Enhancement Award was ostensibly going to be a wide open affair. Pre-season testing signaled who some of the title protagonists would be, and the opening round at Sebring Fla. bared them out.
1999 Barber Dodge Co-Rookie of the Year Michael Valiante of Vancouver, Canada had been on form all throughout winter testing and had the look of a champion. He fired the first salvo of the season with a strong run to the pole at round 1 in Sebring, Fla. Others however lurked in the shadows. Brazilian Nilton Rossoni and Californian Jon Fogarty, the only two Barber Dodge race winners in the field had also been fast in pre-season trials; however, they would save their speed for when it counted.
Valiante was unable to convert his first pole into his first win though he led much of the race at Sebring. Nilton Rossoni, dogged in his pursuit, made his way past Valiante with one lap remaining to take first round of the 2000 series. Valiante settled for second while Fogarty, quick and consistent all weekend, came home a quiet third.
Round 2 was the first of eight events the Barber Dodge Pro Series would run in support of the CART FedEx Series. While Valiante would see the beginnings of a dip in form and a bad luck streak that would haunt him through the balance of the first half of the season, Rossoni and Fogarty saw their star rising. Brazilian rookie Andre Nicastro was quickest in qualifying on the modified oval at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla. Come race day, however, Rossoni and Fogarty would rule the roost. Fogarty jumped into the lead by lap-2 and looked to be drawing away to his second career Barber Dodge victory. What he didn’t know at the time was that Rossoni, who had slipped back to eighth place from fourth on the grid, was on a tear through the field. From laps-18 to 49 Rossoni took no prisoners as he passed all seven cars ahead of him including Fogarty to go on his second win of the season, his third in a row going back to the 1999 finale at Watkins Glen. Fogarty would come home second, while series newcomer Andy Lally would score a podium in his first attempt.
Round 3 moved on to the oval at Nazareth Speedway in Pennsylvania. Dutchman Sepp Koster had picked up a few oval-racing tips from friend and countryman Arie Luyendyk to secure a flag-to-flag win, the first of his Barber Dodge career for the Benelux Formula Ford Champion. Rookie of the Year contender and Barber Dodge Big Scholarship winner Ryan Hunter-Reay challenged Koster late in the race. Though the bid fell short, he would get a career high second place. Lally made it two for two in podiums with another third place.
The Barber Dodge Pro Series paid a visit to Lime Rock Park for Round 4. Fogarty at last crossed the hump and returned to victory lane again. In a blackjack weekend, Fogarty would score the win and pole to net a perfect 21-points and assume the championship lead. From the pole, he left the field behind while Andy Lally and Peter Boss would squabble for the lower two steps on the podium. Lally would see his third straight podium, this time however, the view was a little nicer from the second step. Boss would have his best finish of the season in third.
Round five would take place once again with CART on the Raceway at Belle Isle in Detroit, and once again Jon Fogarty would be perfect. A pole and another flag-to-flag win would garner another 21-points and extend his lead in the quest for the $300,000 Career Enhancement Award. Behind him Matt Plumb and Jamie Menninga would have their career best races with a second and third respectively.
The middle point of the 2000 Barber Dodge Pro Series season came at the Cleveland-Burke Lakefront Airport. Nilton Rossoni would come to Cleveland with history on his side, and let it down he would not. In 1998, he scored a pole in his rookie season there, while in ’99 he would grab the win. 2000 saw the pole rewarded with win number three on the season. Rossoni’s win along with Koster’s second and Fogarty’s third would put a new face on the championship heading into the second half of the season that begins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Aug. 13.
After six rounds, Fogarty leads with 96-points followed by Rossoni with 74 and Koster with 73. Hunter-Reay leads all rookies with 51 points as he sits fourth overall.
- George Tamayo