Eastern Series Title Goes to Court — Vernon, That Is

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Taking it like a man, title runner-up Corey Lewis reaches into the cockpit to congratulate Court Vernon, the 2008 Skip Barber Eastern Region champion.

With the 2008 Skip Barber Race Series Eastern Region having run at VIR, Watkins Glen, Road America, Road Atlanta, Mont Tremblant and NJMP (Lightning), the championship was at ”new” Lime Rock Park for the season finale. The configuration we ran used the original Uphill along with ”West Stop” – West Bend’s optional second-gear right-left combo that exits just before the bridge. (Julien Gerbi’s 1:02.477 is now the record for this layout in the F2000, while Matt Ferris did a 1:09.750 in the MX-5 Miata.) The weather varied a bit from dry and cloudy to damp, with one of the races – the championship group’s Friday race one – in the rain. When all was said and done, the 2008 Eastern Region champion whom we crowned Saturday night was… Court Vernon!

Vernon, 15, from Key Biscayne, Fla., had won one of the scholarships at last February’s Karting Scholarship Shoot-out. He edged Corey Lewis in the final points, 700 to 682. Vernon won eight races to Lewis’s seven this year. In the Lime Rock finale races, Vernon won one and finished seventh in the other. What did Lewis do? Won one and finished seventh in the other! The main difference came down to Lewis finishing off the podium three times, to just twice for Vernon. His championship success also earned Vernon the Rookie of the Year award.

Third in the final standings went to Freddie Zebede, who notched up two wins on his way to 532 points, just ahead of Julien Gerbi and Al Carter. Carter’s fifth overall earned him not only the Masters title, but also the honor of being named Most Improved Driver. Scott Panzer won the Grand Masters division, finishing ninth overall. Other race winners were Peter Ludwig and Sage Karem, with three wins each, while John Stempien, Brian Skinner and Pat Daly each had two victories on the year. Single race winners were Gerbi, Thiago Calvet, Chris Willcox, Bill Hamme and Luca Orlandi.

Congratulations to all the drivers for a great racing year. Almost 100 competitors scored points in the 2008 Eastern Region series, and we thank them all for making Skip Barber part of their racing lives.

Court Vernon holds court, winning Group 3’s second race and clinching the title. Scott Panzer (l.) finished second in the race, with Al Carter — third in the race, Masters champion and Most Improved Driver — on the right.

Results, time sheets and qualifying are here. [Click the line that reads, ”Lime Rock Eastern Finale Race Weekend”]

Here’s the link to the final East points standings

You can find the Race Series schedules here

And clicking here takes you to the MAZDASPEED Challenge schedules

There were only two full course yellows called all weekend, and it’s ironic that the first one was in the first race of the weekend. John Stempien handily led the first 14 laps, over Robert Ecklin and Dom Bastien (who, the gentleman that he is, would pull into the pits with two laps to go, while running second, because he didn’t want to mess up the points standings of the drivers who had been running all year…). On lap 15 we went FCY for four laps for a car down on course after contact between Steve Hahn and Harry Schessel. On the restart, Stempien went again on his way and when Bastien pulled in, Ecklin took over P2. Mark Fee overcame a mid-race pit stop for a West Stop four-off and came in an impressive third, followed by Steve Nelson and Bruno Perreault.

There was dampness in the air for this one but that didn’t stop Stempien from clicking off times that were a bit quicker than the day before. Again he led flag to flag. Ecklin was second for the first few laps but a Big Bend spin handed P2 to Andrew Chinnici, who stayed there the rest of the way. Fee didn’t get the best start but when he put Perreault behind him on lap nine, that was that. Ecklin recovered to fifth at the checker, followed by Hahn, Dan Dunson, Chris DeNicolo, Gary Simmons and Schessel.

In this race, four frontrunners shot themselves in the foot while another had a mechanical (Jim Craige, lap two). Dom Bastien slipped off the road in the Lefthander on the opening lap; on lap five, Leland Englebardt fell off in T1 while leading; Pat Daly went agricultural, also in One, while running second to Bill Hammer, the leader after Englebardt’s oof; and late in the race, Chris Brassard went off-roading in Big Bend after having just gotten around Richard Smith for second. When it all shook out, Hammer rung the bell, with Smith second (from 12th on the grid) and Dicky Riegel third (from 11th). Louis Albornoz and Daly rounded out the top five.

Albornoz led the first eight laps after poleman Hammer and P3 Riegel tangled on the front straight on the start, with Tom Goodhart and Richard Smith slotting into second and third, respectively. But coming up from the third row was Englebardt. He dispatched Daly from fourth on lap five, then he (and Daly) moved around Smith one lap later. One more lap and Englebardt was into second, Goodhart being the target this time. Goodhart returned the favor on the next lap. Now it’s the ninth lap and all of a sudden, like a 1985 Audi 5000, Englebardt was P1, Goodhart second, Daly third and erstwhile leader Albornoz fourth, just ahead of Smith. When Daly put the move on Goodhart on lap 11, he went after Englebardt. Game on. On lap 16 Daly snatched the lead, but that lasted just one lap. So Daly returned the favor instantly, then held on the last five laps, winning over Englebardt by 2/10s. Goodhart, Smith and Albornoz all crossed within the wink of an eye, trailed 10 seconds later by Craige. Brassard, Chris Brown, Steven Craige and Gary Vizioli rounded out the top 10.

G3R1 (Title Group)
This was the race group with the title contenders, Court Vernon and Corey Lewis. But with just two exceptions, all the other drivers in this group – Brian Skinner, Scott Panzer, Julien Gerbi, Al Carter, Felix Serralles, Freddie Zebede and Thiago Calvet – had won Eastern Region races this year. And it was raining… Gerbi was on pole, Vernon alongside, Serralles and Lewis in row two. First lap, Serralles took the lead from Gerbi, with Lewis and Vernon trailing. On the third lap, Gerbi out-braked himself into Big Bend and escaped down the, um, escape road, re-joining DFL, while Vernon four-offed in the West Stop! Now it was Lewis in second place, Carter third, Calvet fourth and Skinner fifth. Lewis sized up Serralles for four laps, then pounced on lap seven to take the lead. Soon, this race’s shape was made clear: Lewis and Serralles up front, Calvet and Carter fighting for third, Skinner, Zebede and Gerbi tussling over the remaining scraps. On lap 15, with the rain having lightened considerably, Skinner took himself out of the running with a little mistake in Two. So now we had three groups of two: Lewis/Serralles (the only drivers in the 1:03s), 20 seconds ahead of Calvet/Carter, who were 20 more seconds up on Gerbi/Zebede. At the flag the top four order didn’t change, but a last-lap move put Zebede in front of Gerbi. Vernon? Not the happiest in the wet here at Lime Rock, he mustered a seventh.

G3R2 (Title Group)
That’s Racing… Wow, talk about pressure and drama… Here’s the scenario: In order for Vernon to win the title, he HAD to finish first or second. Put another way, if Vernon finished third or lower, Lewis would be the champion, regardless of his result. To top things off, Lewis was on pole and Vernon was starting seventh. So the cars roll for the pace lap, green flag, Calvet comes around in first place to end the first lap… Where’s Lewis? Fourth? What happened? Next lap, Calvet still leads, Gerbi is second, Serralles third, Lewis fourth… something’s not right… he’s 7 seconds off the pace. We found out on lap four, when Lewis brought the car in. Linkage problem. Car stuck in gear. Can you believe it? But race cars break, it’s what can happen anytime. The mechanics got him into third gear and Lewis gamely went back out… Still, Vernon had to get to second or better. By lap five Vernon was up to third (Calvet got run into by Zebede and had to head to pit lane). At the minimum, Vernon would have to get past one more driver, be it Gerbi or Serralles, who were trading P1 back and forth. Meanwhile, Lewis was not throwing in the towel; he went back out, stuck in third gear, turning 1:15s and :16s while the leaders were putting up 1:03s and :04s. Remember, Vernon had to get up to second place – and if he made a mistake on the way, Lewis would be the champ. Vernon bided his time, staying in P3 for 10 consecutive laps as the 86 and 66 of Gerbi and Serralles went at it. With 10 laps to go, Vernon made his move for second, getting around Serralles. One lap later, he was in first – and one lap after that, back to second as Serralles was in it to win it. But Vernon wasn’t settling for second and went by Serralles again, leading lap 18. One lap after that, more drama… Calvet had his rear brakes go soft and gently slid into the tires in West Stop. Car was not in a good place, so we went black-all to pull the car and ensure the race ended under green. While Calvet’s car was towed away, the mechanics were able to find fourth gear for Lewis. On the re-start, Vernon kept the lead as Gerbi and Carter had contact — and Serralles went four-off! And three laps later, it was over: Vernon wins the race (and the title), Scott Panzer was second and Carter third, followed by Gerbi, Serralles, Zebede… and Lewis, four laps down. That’s racing…

G4R1 (Mazdaspeed)
The weekend also had a non-points Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Challenge double-header, with 12 drivers taking the Friday green flag. Matt Ferris was on pole and immediately clicked off two two laps in the 1:09s. Robert Ecklin and Jim Craige hung on for a while, but they got to dicing and Ferris inexorably gapped them, winning by 12 seconds. Craige held P2 for 13 laps to Ecklin’s seven, but Craige was a little too hasty with the throttle leaving West Stop and took to the grass and eventually made his required pit stop, relegating him to P3 at the flag. Drive of the Day went to Steve Nelson, 11th to fourth. Fifth was Ralf Ludwig, followed by Dan Moen, Dom Bastien, Pablo Cisilino, Chip Thielen, Steven Craige, Myron Turner and Chris Brassard.

G4R2 (Mazdaspeed)
Peter Ludwig took brother Ralf’s place and started 12th, while Bastien’s and Nelson’s seats were taken over by two SBRS SSAs, Evan Glasner and ”Earle Jam” Hollings. This was another, as the Brits would say, Matt Ferris Benefit, as he led green to checker. Ecklin held second briefly, then J. Craige, but Ludwig climbed into P2 at the halfway point, getting around Craige. But Ludwig couldn’t drive away from Craige nor Ecklin – indeed, on lap 16 Ecklin went from fourth to second – but Ludwig wasted no time in re-conquering the spot. Ecklin finished third, then it was Craige, Brassard, S. Craige, Thielen, Cisilino, Turner, Earle Jam, Glasner and Moen (MDNF).

Eastern Masters Run-off
With Al Carter laying down nine consecutive 1:03s from the green flag, no one else had a chance. Pat Daly, Tom Goodhart and Scott Panzer were disputing the real estate behind Carter, but Daly and Panzer got together early on and thus nixed their chances for a win. By mid-race second place was a dice between Jim Craige and Bill Hammer, Goodhart and Chris Brassard looking on. When Hammer and Craige tried to merge a bit of fiberglass on lap 17, their pit stops elevated Goodhart into second and Leland Englebardt into third. Englebardt wasted very little time in lifting himself into P2, putting Goodhart to third, Brassard remaining fourth and Robert Ecklin fifth. When Dicky Riegel found the Big Bend tires with two laps to go, the race finished under yellow and Carter got his Masters division championship.

George Carlin Memorial
After Gerardo Bonilla parked it from the lead six laps from the end, Jim Craige and 2006 SBN champion Jonathan Goring went at it for a bit, Craige nipping the runaway 2008 IMSA Lites points leader by a half-second, with Al Carter third.

Burger Flipper Memorial
Holy Low Visibility, Batman, Jason Holeman swam through the mist-like mist to take the lead from CrashUs Mullen on lap eight, but Grunt Maalox splashed by three laps later. But on his swim from the bottom, Grant and G. Bonilla had somehow — mysteriously and unexpectedly – banged together, so they had some secs dropped on their sorry a**es post-race. And in even more of a shocker, The Zeigel Has Landed had contact with S. Loan Acre, so they were relieved of some positions too. Meanwhile, rainman Vince Lombardi put up the second-fastest lap on his way to third on the track, which became P2 to Holeman’s P1, post-penalty. Murph and Snidely Whiplash were next, followed by Maalox, Richard ”Binky” Steewing, Fireball Bonilla, S. Loan Acre, CrashUs, StuffOne Bstrckygwmkdpirknzzhjdfcki, The Ziegel Has Landed and Bruce ”New Groom” MacInnes.

Up Next…
… is the stand-alone season finale for the Midwest, Road America September 27-28. At the same Road America weekend is the finale of the inaugural Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Challenge. One week after that, the Skip Barber National finale is at VIR, where four drivers are within 9 points of each other to win the championship and its $350,000 Star Mazda prize.

By now, most of you have heard that we now have both a Southern and Western championship for the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Challenge series in the MX-5 Miatas. MAZDASPEED South opens October 25-26, at a perfect track for the Miatas, Carolina Motorsports Park (in S.C., about an hour south of Charlotte, N.C.). The Western Championship debuts November 1-2 at Laguna Seca. There are discounts available for both…

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