Skip Barber National: Miller Wins Title and Another Race ALTON, Va. - Over the weekend at Virginia International Raceway, site of the double-race season finale of the BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda, Joel Miller clinched the...
Skip Barber National: Miller Wins Title and Another Race
ALTON, Va. - Over the weekend at Virginia International Raceway, site of the double-race season finale of the BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda, Joel Miller clinched the championship by finishing 10th in Saturday's race one. As if to make up for the less than stellar manner in which he won the title, on Sunday Miller put together a sterling effort in race two, coming from the sixth row to win with a last-lap, last corner run on Fabio Orsolon, nipping the young Brazilian by .029 of a second at the line. With 404 points, Miller's victory in the last of the year's 14 races gives him five wins and a 36-point margin over championship runner-up Ricky Taylor (368), a two-time winner. Third was A.J. Riley, who also won twice and notched up 357 points.
Jeff Oleen was the story on Saturday. He had taken his first pole of the year and after a ferocious battle involving most of the top 10 -- at one point Oleen had been shuffled back to fifth, while the lead changed hands numerous times (six times officially at the line) -- and played his hand perfectly two laps from the end, snatching back the lead from Stevan McAleer. McAleer made a last-lap lunge at the finish line but came up a half- car length short. Josef Newgarden, who had fallen as far back as 12th, charged back to third at the checker. Taylor, like virtually everyone else, had also found himself deep in the running order at some point but worked his way to fourth. Kyle Lawrence figured out a way to fifth, followed by Lee Carpentier (his best result of the year, Timmy Megenbier, Julien Gerbi, Beau Debard and champion Miller in 10th.
And how had he ended up there? Miller, who had already led at least once, was in fourth place two laps from the end when he was lightly tapped in the middle of Turn Four and spun (''All I know was it was a blue car. We were all checking up from the leader wobbling.''). But the 21 points he earned closed the deal. What happened to Riley? He unfortunately ended any hopes at the title when made a mistake under braking in Turn One on the second lap, which put both him and Jonathan Gore out.
''This is so great, so fantastic,'' Miller said. ''This was such great racing this year, everybody's so good. Ricky , A.J., Stevan, Kyle... everybody in the top 10. And I really have to thank Skip Barber Racing and Mazda for this unbelievable opportunity.''
Oleen was very happy to take the win -- he hadn't seen a podium since the openers at Sebring -- but even more satisfying was the pole he had taken. ''I hadn't been as fast as the other guys for most of the year, so getting pole was awesome, gave me a lot of confidence.''
Not to sound like a broken record, but race two was even more closely fought -- and with a lot less car contact, to boot. In the space of any given lap, the pack would stretch from four or five cars to 10 or more. Combine VIR's two long straights with Handford Device-equipped Skip Barber Formula 2000 race cars and a clutch of very hungry, talented drivers and what you get is racing that's so close -- and so good, at times -- that even the Skip Barber coaches, who've seen it all, couldn't contain their excitement.
The bottom line is that Sunday's race saw five official lead changes, plus a gazillion others, as it was no holds barred AND Katie bar the door, as the more than a half-dozen fast guys saw one last chance to win a Skip Barber National race. To make along story short, Miller sliced and diced his way from 12th on the grid (he had fallen off the road in race-two qualifying) to third place with a couple laps to go. His timing was perfect, from Oak Tree to the finish line, as he got underneath Newgarden in T14 for second, then flew through the fast left-left-looooooong right complex that leads onto the front straight. The huge run (''It was the first time I could go through there at my speed!'') let him nip leader Fabio Orsolon (who had officially led nine of 11 laps) at the line by the length of the nosecone -- .029 of a second.
In the Masters Division, the series' top three contenders -- Dick Lippert, Jeff Kaiser and Dom Bastien -- put on great battles in both races. Kaiser had to win both races to overhaul points leader Lippert, but it was Bastien who had the measure of both of them in race one. In one fell swoop in race one he got past both of them and held off Lippert at the checker. It was Bastien's first National win. In the second race, Kaiser and Bastien traded punches the whole race long but Kaiser's last lap pass gave him the win, his third of the year. So Lippert wins a well-deserved championship, with Kaiser second and Bastien third.
Great stuff all around, underscoring a vintage Skip Barber National season. Miller's title prize is a paid ride in 2008 with a leading Star Mazda team, valued at roughly $350,000, courtesy of Mazda and Skip Barber Racing. If previous Skip Barber National champions are any indication -- most recently, Raphael Matos, Marco Andretti, Gerardo Bonilla and Jonathan Goring -- Miller's going to go places.
-credit: skip barber racing