Andretti Spins -- and Still Wins -- While Moon Takes Fourth Victory of the Year ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (Aug.8) - Apologies to Benny Moon and Mark Burt and Chris Prey and John Edwards and Paul Albert and Sergio Perez and David Wieringa... well, there...
Andretti Spins -- and Still Wins -- While Moon Takes Fourth Victory of the Year
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (Aug.8) - Apologies to Benny Moon and Mark Burt and Chris Prey and John Edwards and Paul Albert and Sergio Perez and David Wieringa... well, there was a whole bunch o' drivers who had outstanding weekends, all with great stories. But there was one that aced them all -- Marco Andretti's epic showdown with Gerardo Bonilla for the championship. With Bonilla leading Sunday's season finale, Andretti spun himself out of third place in Turn Five and rejoined dead last -- and killed his chance of winning the Skip Barber National Championship Presented by RACER and its $100,000 title bonus.
Or so he thought. Exactly one lap later, in the very same corner, incredibly, Bonilla did the exact same thing. He too rejoined the race, ironically just in front of Andretti. By then it was over, as Bonilla's shot to win the championship had rested on him gaining six points on Andretti. And there he was at mid-pack with Andretti, where the points spread between positions is just one. You can imagine how Bonilla felt, having up to that point been on a major roll. He had done everything he could to wrest the points lead from Andretti: Won a pole and two races at Mont- Tremblant two weeks earlier; took the pole and win on Saturday in round 13. Took the pole and led today's round 14. And then it slipped away...
Both races were furious battles, side-by-side from front to back, five- and six-car freight trains with lead changes galore. Four drivers had a legitimate chance at the title: Andretti and Bonilla, of course, along with Chris Prey and Benny Moon. Robbie Pecorari and Victor Ramos had mathematical chances. But when Saturday's checker flew, the only two left standing, title-shot wise, were Mr. A. and Mr. B.
Bonilla did what he had to do Saturday, grabbing the lead in an extremely entertaining race from Andretti on the last lap for win number four on the season. Sergio Perez sliced and diced and banged his way to third from 10th on the grid, and 13-year-old John Edwards showed he's for real, finishing fourth, just ahead of Barber Dodge and Toyota Atlantic pilot David Wieringa. Meanwhile, Prey, Moon, Pecorari and Ramos fell victim to various and sundry spins, taps and crashes and washed themselves out of the running. We entered Sunday with Andretti six tallies up on Bonilla. Bonilla was on pole. If Bonilla won the race, Andretti had to finish second to win the championship. He was starting third.
As it turned out, you could have started anywhere in the top 10 and led the race. Bonilla led. Prey led. Pecorari led. Moon led. Edwards led. Moon led again. And those were just the official changes across start-finish, not the changes down the straights and through the corners -- including turns where you just don't make passes, but these boys did so anyway. Then came the fateful lap five -- Andretti's major oof -- then lap six -- Bonilla's tossing of the title. From then
on, it was a clusterfest of dicing and wheel-to-wheel action between the top eight, with Moon, Burt and Prey finally coming out on top.
Bonilla: ''I saw Marco spin in my mirrors and thought, wow, a miracle! My best guess, though, was that at worst he would rejoin like eighth or something, and that meant I still had to, at the least, get a podium. I couldn't let up. Coming down to Five, there was a pop for second place behind me and was certain I'd be okay, no way they could catch me. But someone came up alongside and I had to rotate the car with the brakes to make the corner, and I slid, and went off... I thought it would be okay, I could drive through the gravel, rejoin fifth or so, then I hit the grass and she spun. I knew I was done... I kept driving, hoping for another miracle. But really, I had already gotten my miracle, and threw it away...''
Andretti: ''I came down to Five, right behind Gerardo and Chris, we were almost three-wide, so I braked early, but still, I don't know, I locked up and touched Chris and spun... I could see in my head my Mom crying. So, I gotta keep going, gotta hope for a miracle -- and it happened. It was crazy, and it shows why you should never, never give up. It's bad for Bonilla, but this is great, fantastic, thanks Mom and Dad [also in attendance] and Skip Barber Racing and the crew... It's not really sunk in yet...''
It was a great, hard fought championship all year. There were seven different winners and six different polesitters, and the action, as one would expect from a Skip Barber equal-car championship, was exciting and hot. You could see all the drivers mature and improve their racecraft, including Marco Andretti, whose run to the title was marked by tremendous consistency. He won just once (to Bonilla's and Moon's four), but finished second or third eight other times, and never finished lower than eighth. Which was today, high enough to win the 2004 Skip Barber National Championship Presented by RACER and $100,000.