Skip Barber National at Mont-Tremblant: Bobo's Double MONT-TREMBLANT VILLAGE, Que., Canada (July 25) - Four hundred miles and four days ago, Gerardo Bonilla left Mosport fourth in points, 26 tallies behind leader Marco Andretti, as the Skip...
Skip Barber National at Mont-Tremblant: Bobo's Double
MONT-TREMBLANT VILLAGE, Que., Canada (July 25) - Four hundred miles and four days ago, Gerardo Bonilla left Mosport fourth in points, 26 tallies behind leader Marco Andretti, as the Skip Barber National Championship arrived at Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant. "Bobo" had a third and a (disappointing) 10th at Mosport, and in addition to Andretti, he had two other very quick, very tough competitors in front of him; Benny Moon and Chris Prey, both of whom were only 13 and 15 points behind, respectively. Mont-Tremblant is smooth, with good passing possibilities, and a daunting Turns 1-2-3 complex that's very fast and very blind. Could Bonilla get himself back into a realistic title hunt?
The way the weekend schedule shook out, Sunday the 25th would be a test of mental and physical stamina for all the drivers -- a race to start the day, a quick turnaround for race two qualifying, then the second race. Bonilla had taken the pole (his fifth of the year) for the opening race, with Mark Burt, juiced from his strong efforts at Mosport (sixth and fourth), alongside. Robbie Pecorari was third on the grid following his breaking into the winner's circle in one of the Mosport races, with Lorenzo Mandarino next to him. The green flew and Bonilla led a nose to tail train all the way... to Turn 10. That's where Mandarino, a very crafty racer belied by his age (17), sliced into the lead. On lap two, Pecorari also did the deed to Bobo, dropping him to P3. But you could throw a head sock over the three, as this mini-train put a little gap on fourth place, occupied first by Victor Ramos then by a hair-on-fire Burt.
Like this they ran for the next five laps, despite numerous looks and nose-pokes up and down the field, only Chris Prey moving up a notch, taking fifth from Ramos on lap seven. Then came lap eight. Mandarino went just the tiniest bit hot into Four, a right-hand second gear corner that flicks immediately into Five, a third-gear left. Pecorari saw an opportunity to get underneath, did it, but as he aimed down to the apex, Mandarino on the outside, the two touched and suddenly Mandarino was flipping and rolling. He got out of the R/T 2000 okay, but the race was red- flagged moments later to get things sorted out. That meant the order for the eventual re-start would revert to lap seven, and with Mandarino out and Pecorari's car okay, Pecorari was at the point, Bonilla second, Burt third, Prey fourth and Ramos fifth.
Pecorari, the Stars of Karting standout who last year earned the scholarship from Skip Barber Racing to race in the National this year, brought the field around slowly but waited to long to mat it -- Bonilla anticipated the green much better and before you could say "Bobo's in the lead," Bobo was in the lead. Further back, however, Robin Warner shot off the road in Turn Four (he was okay) to initiate a full-course yellow. Tirewall repair took up two laps, so we were going to be treated to a green-white-yellow finish. Bonilla showed Pecorari how you do re-starts -- get on it as soon as the pace car peels off -- and brought it home a couple car lengths in front, Prey keeping third. Burt entered the last corner of the last lap in fourth, but came out of it eighth. Ramos got inside him, moved him out into the grass, and took the position. Andretti, John Edwards and Moon all took advantage of the gimme. For Bonilla, it was his second victory of the year, but there was little time to celebrate; qualifying for the day's second race was on tap...
... and Pecorari got some measure of revenge by breaking Grant Maiman's two-year-old qualifying record, by .013 of a second. Bonilla was second (he had put up his flyer just as the 35- minute clock went to zereo), followed by Moon, Burt (unfazed, obviously), Ramos and Andretti. The start of race two (minus Mandarino and Warner, both low on funds following their crashes) was perfect and the field had sorted itself out to a single-file albeit nose-to-tail version of the grid. On lap four, Andretti made a move under Ramos in the last-corner hairpin that stuck. Then it was all-singing, all-dancing action on lap seven. Rushing up to Turn 10 at the end of the backstraight, the top four flaring like you read about, Pecorari took the lead from Bonilla and Andretti took third from Moon. Two laps later, Turn 10 again was a wild scene of flares, slides and spot-grabbing -- Bonilla snatched the lead, Pecorari fell to third, Andretti into second. Less than a lap later, Andretti got in too hot into the Turn Eight hairpin and gave second up to Pecorari.
Remember the head sock that covered the frontrunners in race one? We were using it again for the last four laps. On the final go-round, Bonilla, Pecorari and Andretti headed onto the backstraight in single file. They entered -- guess where? -- Turn 10 three wide. Bonilla and Pecorari banged wheels mid-corner, and that gave Andretti the jump on Pecorari into 11. There were no last-corner heroics, so it finished Bonilla, Andretti, Pecorari, Moon, Prey, Burt, Ramos, Edwards, Sergio Perez and Jonathan Eriksen -- those last seven all having their own wicked dice.
As the National heads to its 2004 conclusion at the Champ Car Grand Prix of Road America August 7-8 (round 13 Saturday, round 14 Sunday), Andretti's gap over second place has shrunk from 22 points -- one week ago -- to 11. It's all going to come down to the last race, folks.