Race Two To Bonilla Too

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Friday, March 18, 2005 SEBRING, Fla. – Polesitter Gerardo Bonilla let Matt Varsha and Cole Nelson duke it out behind him as he took care of business up front to win his second race of the week in the Skip Barber National Championship Presented by RACER. The hairiest moment for Bonilla came within seconds of the start, a moment which pretty much defined the rest of the race. As the polesitter, at the green Bonilla flew into Turn One with abandon — but was shocked to find ”no grip.”

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Race two, Turn One, lap one, three wide: Peter Ludwig (81), Adam Tran (32) and Jordy Vorrath are nose-to-nose-to-nose.

”With the weather yesterday, we hadn’t been on the BFG slicks since Wednesday,” Bonilla said. ”Today, the track was totally different, which you really can’t feel on the pace laps. First time into One, I got so stupidly sideways, I can’t believe I saved it.”

That hairy moment caused everyone behind to check up, and the quick throttle lifts combined with the relatively gripless track got them sideways and before you knew it an accordion effect caught out Lorenzo Mandarino, Winston de Wardt and Jimmy Locke, done for the day as they went hither and yon. But one guy made the maelstrom work for him: sixth-starting Cole Nelson had found enough traction to duck inside the slithering cars in front of him to rocket up to Turn Three in second place, right on Bonilla’s gearbox. Second-starting Varsha’s mini-moment meant he lost only one spot and tucked in behind Nelson.

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Cole Nelson (77) swapped P2 with Matt Varsha, but Varsha got the spot by the checker.

Bonilla said ”the car was so loose and I was making so many mistakes, I was amazed nobody passed me. Then I figured out it wasn’t me or the car, it was the surface. Everybody was sliding!”

After, as Bonilla put it, ”I re-learned the track,” he put a car length per lap on Nelson. Varsha, however, hunted Nelson down and got him on lap four going into Sunset, Sebring’s famous turn 17, but Nelson snatched it right back as they threw their cars into Turn One. Nelson, very impressive but a pure R/T 2000 rookie nonetheless, started ”to drive my mirrors a bit too much” and fell off the road in turn 10 with four laps to go, losing second to Varsha. That’s how they finished.

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Nelson (l.), Bonilla (c.) and Varsha (r.) are seconds away from soaking themselves. Courtney Conklin (far right) wisely hustles off the stage…

Alan Sciuto made up for his poor showing in Thursday’s race one (DNF) with a brilliant drive to fourth from 11th on the grid, and Garrett Zine also refuses to be cowed by the more experienced pilots to take fifth (on top of his Thursday fourth). A slew of drivers battled ferociously for sixth on back, and coming out on top with smart, hard drives were Adam Tran, Paul Albert and Andy Rossetto (sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively). Lucas McConnell had qualified a terrific third but could not come to grips, so to speak, with the ”new” Sebring and slid back to ninth by the checker, with Peter Ludwig rounding out the top 10.

Next up: Virginia International Raceway, April 22-24. Bonilla says he thinks he can ”pole-pole, win-win” there, too. He’s not being cocky about it; rather, he simply anticipates taking full advantage of his experience in these cars before the teenagers in his mirrors ”eventually catch up.” Let’s see.

-Rick Roso

Round 2 of 14, Skip Barber National Championship Presented by RACER
Sebring International Raceway, 17-turn, 3.7-mile road course
Starting position in parentheses

1. (1) Gerardo Bonilla, Orlando, Fla., 10 laps, 89.981 average mph
2. (2) Matt Varsha, Atlanta, Ga.
3. (6) Cole Nelson, Atwater, Calif.
4. (11) Alan Sciuto, Orange, Calif.
5. (4) Garrett Zine, Rio Linda, Calif.
6. (5) Adam Tran, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
7. (10) Paul Albert, Ottawa, Ont., Canada
8. (12) Andy Rossetto, Grafton, Wis.
9. (3) Lucas McConnell, Springfield, Va.
10. (8) Peter Ludwig, New Paltz, N.Y.
11. (7) Jordy Vorrath, White Rock, B.C., Canada
12. (9) Eoin Ryan, Co. Tipperary, Ireland
13. (18) Chris Cook, Coopersburg, Pa.
14. (20) Jimmy Holden, Tiona, Pa.
15. (22) Terrick Mansur, Oranjestad, Aruba
16. (23) Alain Roger Matrat, Annapolis, Md.
17. (24) Jeremy Morales, Glen Head, N.Y., 9 laps
18. (13) Casey Neal, Middletown, Ohio, 8 laps (mechanical)
19. (15) Richard Heistand, Sunny Isles, Fla., 4 laps (withdrawn)
20. (16) Pablo Sanchez Lopez, Xochimanga, Mexico, 1 lap (contact)
21. (21) John Angelone, Bridgewater, N.J., 1 lap (contact)
22. (14) Lorenzo Mandarino, Burnaby, B.C., Canada, 0 laps (contact)
23. (17) Winston de Wardt, Steamboat Springs, Colo., 0 laps (contact)
24. (19) Jimmy Locke, Center Barnstead, N.H., 0 laps (contact)

Race length: 10 laps of 3.7-mile, 17-turn road course for 37.0 miles
Time of race: 24 minutes, 40.311 seconds
Winner’s average speed: 89.981 mph
Margin of victory: 5.119 seconds
Lap leaders: Bonilla, 1 – 10
Fastest race lap: Bonilla, 2:27.266, lap 9
Fastest qualifier: Bonilla, 2:28.711

Rick Roso

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