Nilton Rossoni of Curitiba, Brazil kept his cool and reeled in pole-sitter Michael Valiante on start of the 17th of 18 laps to take the first victory of the 2000 Barber Dodge Pro Series at Sebring International Raceway. Rossoni crossed the...
Nilton Rossoni of Curitiba, Brazil kept his cool and reeled in pole-sitter Michael Valiante on start of the 17th of 18 laps to take the first victory of the 2000 Barber Dodge Pro Series at Sebring International Raceway.
Rossoni crossed the finish line 0.806 sec ahead of Valiante for his fifth career Barber Dodge victory. In the process, he also established a new track record around the 3.7-mile Sebring circuit with a fast lap of 2:06.667 sec. for an average speed of 105.149 mph.
Valiante, Rossoni and third-place starter Jon Fogarty all got a jump on the field of 28 drivers at the start as they went in to the first corner nearly three wide. Rossoni was forced to defend, allowing Valiante to build a lead. Rossoni soon began to leave Fogarty behind, and what was a three-car train became the two Reynard Dodges of Valiante and Rossoni.
By lap-4 it became evident that the first race of the year would be down to Co-Rookie of the Year Valiante and Rossoni as the duo had a 2.3-sec lead over Fogarty. As Valiante reeled off the laps the gap between the two never surpassed 1.2 sec, with it averaging 0.4 sec for most of the 16 laps that Valiante led.
What looked like would be the first victory for the 20 year-old Vancouver, B.C. native, was not to be as he began to struggle with his car's handling while Rossoni's car seemed to get better with each lap. Coming out of Gendebien bend, and on to the Ulmann Straight, Rossoni built up a head of steam. The pair flashed across the start/finish line with the timing and scoring registering the gap at 0.000 sec. Into turn 1, Rossoni, on the inside, snatched the lead. Valiante tried to parry into turn 3, but could not match Rossoni's newfound pace.
"I made some adjustments to the car mid-way through the race," said Rossoni a former Formula Chevrolet Brazil race-winner. "From then, my car got better and better.
"On my first passing attempt (lap- 11) I selected 3rd gear and got 1st. Then I thought 'calm down, and try to score some points,' but the my car just got faster, " Rossoni recalled.
Valiante, a former karting champion and Formula Dodge race-winner was disappointed not to have captured his first career win. However, he was happy to start the season with 16-points from his second-place, plus the point for pole.
"This definitely a good start to the season," said Valiante, who is focused on a championship bid. "I knew my car would be better on colder tires, so I wanted to get a good lead. As the race went on I began to struggle with oversteer, and Nilton got by."
Fogarty, of Portola Valley, Ca. had a good, if not lonely run for the final podium spot, having spent the bulk of the race 2-3 sec. behind the lead, but comfortably ahead of fourth-placed Roger Yasukawa.
"Another podium, not another win," lamented the one-time winner, who has a knack for scoring podium finishes. "Nilton and Michael got the jump at the start, and I wasn't able to get by Nilton into turn-1. By the last third of the race, I was able to get on pace with them, but my race wasn't long enough."
There were many other spirited battles throughout the field including a marvelous battle between fifth-place Alexandre Sperafico and seventh-place Sepp Koster that often saw the two side by side. The two car battle soon became a four-car battle when eventual sixth-place finisher Matt Plumb and "Big Scholarship" winner Ryan Hunter-Reay joining in. Plumb had a solid drive, moving up quickly through the field from his 12th spot on the grid. Jamie Menninga of Pella, Iowa and Sweden's Thed Bjork rounded out the Top-10.
Marc Breuers of Gladwyne, Pa. was the race's "Most Progressive Driver" rising from 22nd on the grid to claim the final points-paying position of 15th.
The Barber Dodge Pro Series moves on to the Miami-Homestead Speedway in a week's time in support of the CART FedEx Series on Mar. 25.
Championship Positions Following Round 1: Rossoni, 20; Valainte,17; Fogarty, 14; Yasukawa, 12; Sperafico 11; Plumb, 10; Koster, 9; Hunter-Reay, 8; Menninga, 7; Bjork, 6; Andre Nicastro, 5; Peter Boss, 4; Brent Sherman, 3; Jonathan Macri, 2; Breuers,1.