Ron Atapattu celebrates his first Series win Southern and Western Regional racers converged this past weekend at Sebring International Raceway. The famous track laid out as the 12-Hour 3.7 mile long course, more than enough pavement and clipping...
Ron Atapattu celebrates his first Series win
Southern and Western Regional racers converged this past weekend at Sebring International Raceway. The famous track laid out as the 12-Hour 3.7 mile long course, more than enough pavement and clipping points to establish just which is the stronger series. 68 racers, 51 from the South and 17 from the West, strapped into identically tuned Formula Dodge R/T 2000s on Michelin rubber. Emotions ran hot on an uncharacteristically cold weekend that featured a clash of egos, race cultures and occasional car contact. True to the competitive nature of the Skip Barber Race Series, the ten race groups split victories, each region claiming five wins over the weekend.
In group 1 race 1, Matt Franc was promoted to race winner after Craig Duerson and Scott Bassinder were penalized in post-race scrutiny for car contact. Post race inspection revealed damaged nose cones on the pair’s racecars, which led officials to claim and penalize for bump-drafting. The physical evidence led to a 20-second penalty that removed both from the podium. Aerelio Lopez Martin, who has been hinted at a potential Pro Series ride, was upgraded to second place as a result of the ruling. Revere Greist once again benefited from Skip Barber Race Series contact rules, managing to avoid trouble, drove a clean, smart race to finish on the podium in third.
Western Series points leader Robbie Montinola claimed his first win of the season, overcoming a poor start and taking the point from Javier Gonzalez on lap 3. Montinola, fresh from his test in a Pro Series car earlier, held on to finish ahead of Rookie Jonatan Jorge in second and Gonzalez in third. Jorge spun in practice and was forced to start from ninth but battled back gamely, actively finding his way to the front. John Greist secured the Masters win with his seventh place overall finish.
In group 3 race 1, an early drop of the green flag allowed Ron Atapattu to get around the field without event and establish himself as the race leader into turn-1. Atapattu put down consistently quick laps building on his perfect start to keep the others at bay. John Mefford and Roland Isra followed the Masters racer home in second and third.
Group 4 race 1 featured a gritty battle between Al Unser Jr. and Can Artam, who fought for their share of real estate for what seemed like the entire race. The two engaged in questionable contact, went four-off and came together hard, parking Artam’s car and ending his race. Both earned penalties for aggressive driving although Unser earned a second penalty for not pitting due to his four-off excursion. Not to be lost in all the excitement was Atticus Missner, who benefited from the penalty ruling to claim his first win of the weekend. Newcomer Travis Roberts earned his first podium in his first race in the Skip Barber Race Series. The fleet young driver is being considered for the 2002 Formula Dodge National Championship. Masters racer Peter Stolper rounded out the podium with his third place result.
In the day’s last race, Justin Blower tripped the fastest lap of group 5 with a time of 2:26.708 sec., to claim the win over John Mefford and Robert Pellosie. Blower, who started in fourth, advanced to the point on lap six and held the lead for the duration. Chris Fowler advanced from 13th to finish in fourth place, just seconds behind Pellosie. Early race leader Christiano Piquet suffered engine failure with four laps to go in the 9 lap race.
Bud Risser shares a moment with Jonatan Jorge as Larry Revier looks on
The cold had not abated for the second day of race action, but neither had the spirits of the competitors. In Group 1 redux, Matt Franc outlasted a duel with defending Southern Series Champion Craig Duerson to snatch the victory by a thin 0.7 sec. margin. Fan favorite Bud Risser followed the pair home to round out the podium. Risser maximized his efforts by claiming the Masters win. John Greist, preparing for the Midwest season, progressed from 18th to finish seventh overall and second in Masters play.
Group 2 race 2 saw Robbie Montinola earn a comfortable margin victory over current Southern Series points leaders Jonatan Jorge. Jorge led the first three laps but spun under pressure from the more experienced Montinola. The younger racer fell back to forth but worked his way back up to second where he finished. Javier Gonzalez secured the last spot on the rostrum with his third place result. Virginian David Harris won the Masters prize as well as most progressive driver distinction, advancing from 12th to finish in the top-5. Representing the west coast, Jason Richardson charged from sixth to third but compromised his position when he went four-off late. Richardson, who took the checkered in third, was relegated to seventh with the penalty incurred.
John Mefford endured a snapped throttle during the warm up to Group 3 race 2 and had to pit to change cars. Mefford took it all in stride. The polesitter was virtually unchallenged throughout, leading all nine laps to the checkered flag. Masters racer Michael Edwards, in his second of four races that day, charged from 12th to follow Mefford home in second place after Roland Isra was penalized for a four-off infraction. Isra’s 20 second penalty moved him back to sixth. Harris also benefited, moving up to claim his spot on the podium. Following her victory in Daytona in the Enduro 66, Laura Rowe returned to Florida in good form to claim a top-5 result.
Upstart driver Al Unser faced a daunting task in Group 4 race 2, starting from 11th on the grid. Unser broke free at the start and quickly worked his way up to assume the lead on lap 3. He never looked back en route to the victory circle. Rookie Travis Roberts followed with a second podium result and Chris Ortenburger, representing the Western Series, came home in third. Atticus Missner led the first two laps but spun, falling back to sixth where he eventually finished.
Brazilian Christiano Piquet and Justin Blower waged an epic battle for the front throughout this Group 5 affair. While the pair jousted for position, Jordan Gore hang back, positioned in third, and waited out the storm. The strategy paid dividends. With two laps to go, Piquet rear-ended Blower in the hairpin. As neither pitted, both were assessed a 20-second penalty allowing Gore to claim the victory. John Mefford and Chris Fowler rounded out the podium in second and third. Preparing for the upcoming Masters National, Michael Edwards competed in his third race of the day and was clearly the most progressive driver on track. Edwards, starting from 15th, finished fourth overall to take the Masters prize ahead of fellow Masters racer Larry Revier.
As the weekend waned, one more race captured the attention of fans and friends of the 60-plus drivers. In the Waylon Jennings Memorial, Craig Duerson captured the win over Scott Bassinder and Roland Isra. Duerson, the ubiquitous racer with multiple championships, is taking a sabbatical to promote his son’s karting career.
Four points leaders emerge following the Sebring weekend. Jonatan Jorge [Southern] and Robbie Montinola [Western] lead their respective regional championships while Peter Stolper [Southern] and Jim Mashburn [Western] top the leader board in Masters competition.