SBN at A1GP: Double Di Leo

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

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Marco Di Leo got to do this twice at the A1GP weekend, and has instantly established himself as a championship contender.

Skip Barber National Presented by RACER: Double Di Leo MONTEREY, Calif. (March 11 & 12) – The lap charts show Marco Di Leo leading every lap of the two races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – the opening rounds of the 2006 Skip Barber National Presented by RACER – but his lead in each was never more than two or three car lengths, and both races had late-race cautions that put those leads under further major threat. But both times Di Leo fought off the advances and left the A1GP event an impressive double winner.

Di Leo, younger brother of Champ Car Atlantic driver Dan, had taken pole in qualifying for race one and was immediately at the head of a five-car train: Jonathan Goring, Alex Doman, Alexander Rossi and Joel Miller were all on top of each other for the opening seven laps. (The second-fastest qualifier was Justin Moon, but after the warm-up lap, his fuel cell was found to be leaking. He jumped into a spare but would have to start from pit lane…)

On lap eight, when Goring overcooked the Turn 11 hairpin, Rossi had the run on him up the front straight and then out-braked Goring into Two to take over second place. Just past halfway, the five-car train was down to three as Doman and Miller lost a few car lengths to the leaders. Di Leo was in charge but it was still anyone’s game. Then ‘‘Enzo’’ Pastor threw his R/T 2000 into the Turn Six beach on lap 14. Di Leo’s ‘‘lead’’ was gone and now it was going to be a NASCAR finish: green-white-checker. At the green, Rossi was unable to make a legitimate run on Di Leo, but behind the leaders Kyle Lawrence, who was in a solid sixth, went off the road at the exit of Two. He was stuck in the mud and the corner was covered by a yellow. On the last lap, Miller and Goring were in a wicked wheel-to-wheel fight for third place. As they blasted down into Two, Miller never saw the flag and passed Goring. Oops. (In Miller’s defense, the flag station is poorly placed, and the yellow was shown in less than vigorous fashion.) The move pushed both cars out to the outside, which meant Moon went past the both of them – after the incident area. (Wait a minute, where did Moon come from? Scything through the field, dead-last starting Moon had knocked off two sometimes three cars per lap. The full course yellow had then put him right back in the hunt. Really, an amazing drive.) Meanwhile, Di Leo kept Rossi behind him – barely – for the win. While the officials sorted through the evidence of who did what, Moon and Miller were on the hot seat, so Goring was sent to the podium celebration. Sadly for Goring, Moon was cleared of any crimes and took his amazing P3. Miller, though barely to blame, by rule could not be exonerated and though he crossed the line fourth, he would be classified 15th after 15 seconds were added to his race time.

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Though Joel Miller (the blue car going inside Alex Doman here in Turn Two) was fast, things did not work in his favor this weekend. Two penalties – one deserved, one not – put a damper on his results, but he likely won’t remain down for long.

Race two was nearly as frenetic, but this time in wet-to-damp conditions. Di Leo was on pole by virtue of points following race one (more big rain resulted in A1GP officials having to ask to dramatically modify the schedule again, to which Skip Barber Racing assented, for the sake of the show) and again he retained the lead at the start. Despite a lot less grip than Saturday, we saw no greater gaps between the leading cars. In fact, the racing was even closer. But Di Leo had been exuding confidence all weekend and never put a wheel wrong, despite Rossi attaching himself to his gearbox. By the last lap, with a dry line developing in some areas (and definitely not on other parts of the track), he who could sniff out the bits of grip here and there was going to have an advantage. Moon has shown previous mastery of this very handy talent in Skip Barber regional races at Laguna and leapt at Rossi out of the Corkscrew and through Turn Nine. He went to the inside of Rossi going into Ten. It then looked like Rossi attempted to duck back inside to take advantage of Moon’s compromised line, but was a little too abrupt with the brakes and steering wheel – and spun to the inside. A second podium for Rossi was thusly tossed, as Goring gladly accepted the handout.

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With all four mirrors in working order, Alexander Rossi (#25) and Justin Moon (#64) go at it, um, vigorously…

Alex Doman had a relatively quiet but solid weekend, taking fifth on Saturday and fourth on Sunday, while Mario Adrian Ochoa was similarly successful: a sixth and a fifth. Duncan Ende (eighth and sixth), a star in the Western and Southern Regional Series, and Andy Rossetto (two sevenths), one of just two national drivers returning from 2005 (Richard Heistand is the other), were competitive, too.

Despite Di Leo’s steamroller weekend, it’s clear there are a bunch of drivers who will be players in the championship this year. VIR is next up, a track that’s not only wholly different than Laguna, but one that few of these drivers have seen. Should be interesting.

March 11, 2006, Round 1 of 14, Skip Barber National Presented by RACER
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, 11-turn, 2.24-mile road course
Starting position in parentheses

1. (1) Marco Di Leo, Markham, Ont. Can., 17 laps, 70.909 average mph
2. (5) Alexander Rossi, Nevada City, Calif., 17 laps
3. (20) Justin Moon, Shingle Springs, Calif., 17
4. (2) Jonathan Goring, Norfolk, Conn., 17
5. (3) Alex Doman, Conifer, Colo., 17
6. (9) Mario Adrian Ochoa, Mexico, 17
7. (6) Andy Rossetto, Grafton, Wis., 17
8. (16) Duncan Ende, Los Angeles, Calif., 17
9. (15) Jason Fennessey, Andover, Mass., 17
10. (10) Eric Freiberg, Homer Glen, Ill., 17
11. (8) Kyle Wiegand, Bargersville, Ind., 17
12. (17) Timmy Megenbier, Melrose Park, Ill., 17
13. (13) Quentin Wahl, Santa Barbara, Calif., 17
14. (18) Peter Husser, Salinas, Calif., 17
15. (4) Joel Miller, Hesperia, Calif., 17
16. (14) Chris Castagna, S. Boston, Mass., 17
17. (7) Kyle Lawrence, Fort Gratiot, Mich., 15 (spin)
18. (11) Richard Heistand, Orlando, Fla., 15 laps (contact)
19. (12) Ferd. Enzo Pastor, Philippines, 15
20. (19) Cory Turner, Bakersfield, Calif., 7 (contact)

Joel Miller crossed the finish line fourth, but was penalized 15 seconds for passing under yellow

Race length: 17 laps of 2.24-mile, 11-turn road course for 38.08 miles
Time of race: 32 minutes, 13.296 seconds
Conditions: Dry
Winner’s average speed: 70.909 mph
Margin of victory: 0.714 seconds
Lap leaders: Di Leo, 1 – 17
Caution laps: 2, laps 14 and 15
Fastest race lap: Moon, 1:40.169
Fastest qualifier: Di Leo, 1:40.131

March 12, 2006, Round 2 of 14, Skip Barber National Presented by RACER
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, 11-turn, 2.24-mile road course
Qualifying cancelled; starting position (in parentheses) determined by points

1. (1) Marco Di Leo, Markham, Ont. Can., 9 laps, 56.128 average mph
2. (3) Justin Moon, Shingle Springs, Calif., 9 laps
3. (4) Jonathan Goring, Norfolk, Conn., 9
4. (5) Alex Doman, Conifer, Colo., 9
5. (6) Mario Adrian Ochoa, Mexico, 9
6. (8) Duncan Ende, Los Angeles, Calif., 9
7. (7) Andy Rossetto, Grafton, Wis., 9
8. (11) Kyle Wiegand, Bargersville, Ind., 9
9. (12) Timmy Megenbier, Melrose Park, Ill., 9
10. (17) Kyle Lawrence, Fort Gratiot, Mich., 9
11. (13) Quentin Wahl, Santa Barbara, Calif., 9
12. (14) Peter Husser, Salinas, Calif., 9
13. (9) Jason Fennessey, Andover, Mass., 9
14. (2) Alexander Rossi, Nevada City, Calif., 9
15. (18) Richard Heistand, Orlando, Fla., 9
16. (16) Chris Castagna, S. Boston, Mass., 9
17. (20) Cory Turner, Bakersfield, Calif., 9
18. (15) Joel Miller, Hesperia, Calif., 9
19. (19) Ferd. Enzo Pastor, Philippines, 8
20. (10) Eric Freiberg, Homer Glen, Ill., 5

Race length: 9 laps of 2.24-mile, 11-turn road course for 20.16 miles
Time of race: 21 minutes, 33.047 seconds
Conditions: Wet-to-damp-to-drying
Winner’s average speed: 56.128 mph
Margin of victory: 0.838 seconds
Lap leaders: Di Leo, 1 – 9
Caution laps: 2, laps 7 and 8
Fastest race lap: Moon, 2:01.556
Fastest qualifier: None

SBN Points Standings, top 15 drivers, after 2 of 14 rounds:
1. Marco Di Leo, 131
2. Justin Moon, 115
3. Jonathan Goring, 105
4. Alex Doman, 95
5. Mario Adrian Ochoa, 85
6. Alexander Rossi, 75
7. Duncan Ende, 73
8. Andy Rossetto, 72
9. Kyle Wiegand, 57
10. Timmy Megenbier, 51
11. Jason Fennessey, 48
12. Quentin Wahl, 42
13. Peter Husser, 36
14. Eric Freiberg, 27
15. Kyle Lawrence, 27

Next races: April 21-23, Virginia International Raceway, with Rolex Sports Car Series and Grand-Am Cup.

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The A1GP press room was treated to a special cake, just to remind the racing media about who’s responsible for helping and developing the world’s top drivers for more than a quarter century. In descending order, those are the helmets of Bryan Herta, Juan Pablo Montoya, A.J. Allmendinger and Scott Speed, all of whom raced and won in the two pro series Skip Barber has run over the past 30 years. The white helmet? It represents the next famous driver coming from our ranks. Did we see him this weekend? Check back a couple years from now…

Rick Roso

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