Double Di Leo MONTEREY, Calif. (March 11 & 12) The lap charts show Marco Di Leo leading every lap of the two races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca the opening rounds of the 2006 Skip Barber National Presented by RACER but his lead in each was never...
Double Di Leo
MONTEREY, Calif. (March 11 & 12) The lap charts show Marco Di Leo leading every lap of the two races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca the opening rounds of the 2006 Skip Barber National Presented by RACER but his lead in each was never more than two or three car lengths, and both races had late- race cautions that put those leads under further major threat. But both times Di Leo fought off the advances and left the A1GP event an impressive double winner.
Di Leo, younger brother of Champ Car Atlantic driver Dan, had taken pole in qualifying for race one and was immediately at the head of a five-car train: Jonathan Goring, Alex Doman, Alexander Rossi and Joel Miller were all on top of each other for the opening seven laps. (The second-fastest qualifier was Justin Moon, but after the warm-up lap, his fuel cell was found to be leaking. He jumped into a spare but would have to start from pit lane...)
On lap eight, when Goring overcooked the Turn 11 hairpin, Rossi had the run on him up the front straight and then out-braked Goring into Two to take over second place. Just past halfway, the five-car train was down to three as Doman and Miller lost a few car lengths to the leaders. Di Leo was in charge but it was still anyone's game. Then ``Enzo'' Pastor threw his R/T 2000 into the Turn Six beach on lap 14. Di Leo's ``lead'' was gone and now it was going to be a NASCAR finish: green-white-checker. At the green, Rossi was unable to make a legitimate run on Di Leo, but behind the leaders Kyle Lawrence, who was in a solid sixth, went off the road at the exit of Two. He was stuck in the mud and the corner was covered by a yellow. On the last lap, Miller and Goring were in a wicked wheel-to-wheel fight for third place. As they blasted down into Two, Miller never saw the flag and passed Goring. Oops. The move pushed both cars out to the outside, which meant Moon went past the both of them after the incident area. (Wait a minute, where did Moon come from? Scything through the field, dead-last starting Moon had knocked off two sometimes three cars per lap. The full course yellow had then put him right back in the hunt. Really, an amazing drive.) Meanwhile, Di Leo kept Rossi behind him barely for the win. While the officials sorted through the evidence of who did what, Moon and Miller were on the hot seat, so Goring was sent to the podium celebration. Sadly for Goring, Moon was cleared of any crimes and rightly took his amazing P3. Miller was not exonerated and though he crossed the line fourth, he would be classified 15th after 15 seconds were added to his race time.
Race two was nearly as frenetic, but this time in wet-to-damp conditions. Di Leo was on pole by virtue of points following race one (more big rain resulted in A1GP officials having to ask to dramatically modify the schedule yet another time, to which Skip Barber Racing assented, again, for the sake of the show) and again he retained the lead at the start. Despite a lot less grip than Saturday, we saw no greater gaps between the leading cars. In fact, the racing was even closer. But Di Leo had been exuding confidence all weekend and never put a wheel wrong, despite Rossi attaching himself to his gearbox. By the last lap, with a dry line developing in some areas (and definitely not on other parts of the track), he who could sniff out the bits of grip here and there was going to have an advantage. Moon has shown previous mastery of this very handy talent in Skip Barber regional races at Laguna and leapt at Rossi out of the Corkscrew and through Turn Nine. He went to the outside of Rossi going into Ten... and made it work. Rossi, in fact, spun to the inside (``I think his right-rear got my left-front,'' Rossi said afterward) and another podium for Rossi was tossed, as Goring gladly accepted the handout.
Next two races: April 21-23, Virginia International Raceway with Rolex Sports Car Series and Grand-Am Cup.