2005 SBN Champ Gerardo Bonilla Wins Mazda Opener

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Monday, March 20, 2006

More proof that the Skip Barber National is the place to prepare ‘‘star’’ drivers of the future: 2005 Champion Gerardo Bonilla spanked the Star Mazda field in the series opener at the 2006 Sebring 12-Hour. Photo by the incomparable Sidell Tilghman

SEBRING, Fla. (March 18) – The champion of last year’s Skip Barber National Presented by RACER, Gerardo Bonilla, clearly put his $100,000 title bonus to good use when he signed with the Anderson Racing Team for the 2006 Star Mazda Championship. Overcoming problems in qualifying, Bonilla started fifth in the season opener at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring — then went on to win the race in dominating fashion.

‘‘As I drove the cool-down lap, I waved at everyone, ‘‘ Bonilla said. ‘‘I never took my arms down. I wanted to wave to every fan, every corner worker, every friend who might be watching. I wanted the TV cameras to see how grateful I was to do this! What a privilege. What an amazing opportunity…’’

Bonilla had taken the lead of the 17-lapper on the re-start after a very early full-course caution, getting underneath teammate Brad Jaeger in Turn One. Two more FCYs meant Bonilla had to fend off Daniel Herrington (yep, also a former Race Series driver) on both of those re-starts, but Bonilla was easily up to the task. His eventual margin of victory was almost 5 seconds over Herrington; Adrian Carrio was third.

Also with a superb drive was Matt Varsha. Last year, with four poles, five second-places and one win, Varsha finished fourth in the Skip Barber National. In qualifying for the Sebring Mazda race, he crashed early and didn’t post a time. Starting at the back of the massive 37-car grid, Varsha rocketed up through the field and, taking full advantage of the three caution periods, just missed the podium, finishing only 1.5 seconds behind Carrio.

Logan Gomez (sixth), Ron White (eighth), John Pew (12th) and Mark Patterson (15th) also flew the Skip Barber flag.

In fact, half the starting field – 18 drivers – of the opening round of the Star Mazda Championship at Sebring were drivers coming out of the Skip Barber Racing system.

Other Alumni at Sebring In Sebring’s ‘‘main event,’’ Butch Leitzinger finished second in the big class (LMP1) in a Lola B06/10 AER, and Chris Dyson was third, also in a Lola. In LMP2, the winners were Jon Field and son Clint (Lola B05/40 AER). And every LMP2 from third-through-seventh had at least one Skip Barber grad as part of the driving team: Rick Sutherland, third in a Lola/Zytek; Michael Vergers and Elton Julian, fourth in a Courage; Raphael Matos and Guy Cosmo fifth in a Courage/Mazda; Patrick Long sixth in a Penske Porsche; and Andy Lally and James Gue seventh in a Courage/AER.

Rick Roso

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