(SEBRING, Fla.) Mar. 17, 2001 -It was a day of firsts at Sebring International Raceway. Alex Sperafico of Toledo Parana, Brazil finished off a perfect weekend by winning Round 1 of the 2001 Barber Dodge Pro Series. Sperafico took the provisional...
(SEBRING, Fla.) Mar. 17, 2001 -It was a day of firsts at Sebring International Raceway. Alex Sperafico of Toledo Parana, Brazil finished off a perfect weekend by winning Round 1 of the 2001 Barber Dodge Pro Series. Sperafico took the provisional pole on Thursday and followed up on Friday by keeping it and setting a qualifying record in the process. The win means that he walks away with a perfect 21 points and his first career win. The victory also makes Sperafico the first to win a Barber Dodge Pro Series race under the CART banner since the Pro Series became the Official Entry Level Professional Race Series of CART. Sperafico led Barber-CART Rookie of the Year Ryan Hunter-Reay and Frenchman Nicolas Rondet to the checkered flag.
"I feel great. The car was very fast in the race," said Sperafico who took his No. 9 Iveco Fiat Dodge Reynard to victory. "Nicolas (Rondet) gave me some trouble at the start, but we had a very good clean fight during the race."
Sperafico in fact lost the lead to Rondet midway round the fourth lap as the field returned to racing following a 3-lap caution period to remove the stricken cars of Sepp Koster and Rene Bauer who were involved in separate opening lap incidents. He was left to trail Rondet for the next five laps until they began to work lap-10 when Sperafico and Rondet were involved in a pass-repass-pass maneuver that was a sight to see. It all began on the previous lap when Serafico tucked in behind Rondet for the long draft up the start/finish straight. Sperafico grabbed the lead on the inside of turn-1 only for Rondet to parry into turn-4. Sperafico took a 'never say die' approach into turn-10 and made it count. From there he was never to look back. Ryan Hunter-Reay had crept into the mix as the leading pair battled. Once Sperafico took the lead, Rondet found himself having to defend a new attack by Hunter-Reay.
Sperafico meanwhile would extend his lead to three seconds at the flag. Behind Hunter-Reay kept the pressure on Rondet whose car was beginning to ill handle.
On the 15th of 17 laps, Hunter-Reay executed a beautifully calculated pass on Rondet. Once again it all began at the exit of the final corner. Hunter-Reay drafted into turn-1 and took the inside line. Rondet did all he could to hold the position, but it was not to be as Hunter-Reay defended the inside line all the way through turn-3.
"Going into turn-3 we were side by side. I braked as deeply as I could on the inside and defended the position," relayed Hunter-Reay, 20, of Boca Raton, Fla. "I'm so happy to be where I am right now as things weren't looking good for me. I had a bad start after I tried a new tactic that obviously didn't work, but I managed to catch back up."
Rondet, who hasn't driven competitively since 1999 and who has only had a few days of seat time in the Barber Dodge Reynard was philosophical afterwards.
"It was a pleasure to race with these guys. I came back to this series to be competitive and though I wasn't expecting it to be easy, the competition here is really tough," said Rondet who drives the No. 24 In KART USA Dodge Reynard. "I developed some understeer midway through the race, but it was still a pleasure to go wheel-to-wheel and fight for the lead.
Fourth place went to Roger Yasukawa who made up six places after starting tenth. He caught up to the lead group but was unable to make any inroads beyond that. Fifth place went to Peter Boss who drove solidly throughout, but the drive of the race would have to go to 19-year old Rafael Sperafico. Having started on the front row, Sperafico was surrounded at the start and resulted in contact in turn-1 with Koster, forcing him to pit. Fortunately, the caution period allowed Sperafico to take his No. 21 Barber-CART Big Scholarship Dodge Reynard to the back of the pack. From there, he went on tear through the field, seemingly passing at will, eventually finishing sixth and setting the fastest lap of the race in the process.
Marc Breuers who started 16th finished ninth in his Sunoco Dodge Reynard. For the effort he was awarded the Conseco Step Up Award having made up the most places from his starting position.
Round 1 of the Barber Dodge Pro Series will be televised on ESPN 2 on Tuesday, April 10 at 5:30 p.m. EDT. Round 2 of the Pro Series will move on to Phoenix International Raceway on April 28.