SBN: Polehtto Wins First, Daly His Third

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Sunday, August 10, 2008 [Race photos below]

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – It was only a matter of time before the driver that had led the BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda championship for most of the year, Felipe Polehtto, finally won a race. The 19-year-old Brazilian did just that on Saturday in the first of the two races at Road America. The victory moved him back into the points lead – Josef Newgarden had ousted Polehtto from the top spot following last month’s races at Barber Park – but only for 28 hours. In Sunday’s race, one of the most exciting in a year that’s already filled with them, Conor Daly bagged his third win of the year, just 0.021 of a second in front of Newgarden. Polehtto’s fifth place on Sunday wasn’t enough to keep him in front of Newgarden – but Polehtto’s only 2 points behind.

And those 2 scant points come courtesy of Newgarden being on fire in qualifying. Each pole is worth a point, and when each of the two Road America qualifying sessions ended, Newgy had topped both. The two poles were his fourth and fifth on the trot. You have to go back to qualifying for race one at Mosport – that was mid-June – to find another polesitter (Gabby Chaves).

With one, two and sometimes three lead changes per lap pretty typical for Skip Barber National races – especially at the draft-fest that is Road America – what position you’re in as you cross the stripe on any given lap means… not very much. At that moment you’re probably getting passed, or passing someone else. Or both. Suffice it to say, Saturday’s race was a five-car scrap between Newgarden, Fabio Orsolon, Daly, Connor De Phillippi and Polehtto. No one had anything on anyone else, and any one of these guys was in it to win it. However, and not to take anything from Polehtto, but he did have the fortune of being the leader when the track went full-course yellow for a big mid-pack crash in Canada Corner. But just before the FCY, Newgarden fluffed his downshift into One and went four-off, re-joining fifth. Moments later, officials called for the yellow. There wasn’t enough time on the clock to clean up the debris so the race finished under caution. Stoic Polehtto was pleased – you take that first win any way you can – but for sure he’ll want to get a win under green flag conditions, too.

Orsolon finished second, De Phillippi third, followed by Daly, Newgarden and Victor Carbone. And what of frontrunner Stevan McAleer, who had qualified on the front row? In the race he found the handling of his Skip Barber F2000 completely different from the day before and couldn’t even stay with the lead pack. When Road America specialist Dean Patzer (winner of many Skip Barber Regional races here) spun at the exit of Canada Corner while running seventh, McAleer and Nick Tonkin spun together trying to avoid. Victor Carbone and Ashley Freiberg avoided the schamozzle, but Gustavo Linares was late to react and launched his left sides over Patzer’s car. The ensuing debris field caused the FCY. McAleer re-fired and limped home ninth, ahead of Masters Division winner Tom Brown.

Sunday’s race had no such blemish. Alongside Newgarden on the front row was Polehtto, behind them the two Con[n]or D’s, then McAleer and Freiberg (the year’s first female starter, qualifying an impressive sixth). The green flies and suddenly – as expected – there’s a four-car flare heading into One. Newgy led as the field exited the corner, but that was the last time one could keep track of things. Even more so than Saturday’s race, this one was seeing a different leader through almost every corner. No one was getting away. Freiberg (this was her first National start, remember) hung in there until a mismatched downshift a la Newgy sent her into the beach mid-race, and now it was basically a nine-car train.

At least five of those nine had their turn at the front, as brief as they may have been, but for the record, by the start of the last lap (lap 10) it was Polehtto, McAleer, De Phillippi, Orsolon, Daly, Newgarden, Patzer, Sean Rayhall and Carbone. The fact that the lap nine order had virtually nothing in common with the finishing order two-and-a-half minutes later tells you everything you need to know. Out of the last corner, screaming up the hill was an angry mob of SBF2000s and three cars flashed across the line, side-by-side-by-side, followed instantly by two more cars wheel to wheel, followed by two more cars side by side. It was left to the T&S computers to sort it out.

The winner? Daly, .021 in front of Newgarden, who was but .078 ahead of De Phillippi. De Phillippi was just .188 in front of McAleer, who was just… well, you get the picture. The bottom line is the first seven cars crossed the finish just outside a half-second of each other. Two more were 6/10s of a second behind them. Shew… gotta wipe the sweat from my brow after this one…

So here’s what we have now… There are four races to go, and the top four drivers are, in practical terms, tied. The 9 points that separates first-place Newgarden (288) from fourth-place Orsolon (279) – with Polehtto at 286 and Daly 282 – is less than the value of a 20th-place finish. All four have shown the qualifying speed, race pace and the race craft to win the title and its $350,000 prize. You can’t cross McAleer and De Phillippi off the list either, with 233 and 222 points, respectively. Next up, the end of this month, is the all-new Thunderbolt Raceway, rounds 11 and 12 at New Jersey Motorsports Park, with the Grand-Am DPs. Goodness knows what’s going to happen there…

Results, BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda

August 9, 2008, round 9 of 14, BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda
Road America, 14-turn, 4.0-mile road course
(Starting position in parentheses)

1. (5) Felipe Polehtto, Brazil, 8 laps, 92.912 average mph
2. (3) Fabio Orsolon, Brazil, 8 laps
3. (7) Connor De Phillippi, San Clemente, Calif., 8
4. (4) Conor Daly, Noblesville, Ind., 8
5. (1) Josef Newgarden, Henderson, Tenn., 8
6. (6) Victor Carbone, Brazil, 8
7. (10) Ashley Freiberg, Homer Glen, Ill., 8
8. (11) Sean Rayhall, Winston, Ga., 8
9. (2) Steven McAleer, Scotland, 8
10. 1M (no time) Tom Brown, Milwaukee, Wis., 8
11. 2M (12) Dom Bastien, West Palm Beach, Fla., 8
12. (15) Victor Pedrosa, Brazil, 8
13. (8) Dean Patzer, Chicago, Ill., 6 (crash)
14. (9) Nick Tonkin, Port Coquitlam, B.C., Canada, 6 (crash)
15. (13) Gustavo Linares, Venezuela, 6 (crash)
16. (14) Lee Carpentier, New Canaan, Conn., 3 (contact)

Race length: 8 laps of 4.0-mile road course for 32.0 miles
Time of race: 20 minutes, 39.883 seconds
Conditions: Sunny and nice
Margin of victory: Finished under yellow
Lap leaders: Newgarden 1; Orsolon, 2 – 3; Newgarden 4; Orsolon 5; Newgarden 6; Orsolon 7; Polehtto 8
Cautions: One, for one lap (lap 8)
Fastest qualifier: Newgarden, 2:29.468 / 96.342 mph
Fastest race lap: De Phillippi, 2:30.640 / 95.592 mph, lap 4

August 10, 2008, round 10 of 14, BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda
Road America, 14-turn, 4.0-mile road course
(Starting position in parentheses)

1. (3) Conor Daly, Noblesville, Ind., 10 laps, 94.052 average mph
2. (1) Josef Newgarden, Henderson, Tenn., 10 laps
3. (4) Connor De Phillippi, San Clemente, Calif., 10
4. (5) Steven McAleer, Scotland, 10
5. (2) Felipe Polehtto, Brazil, 10
6. (11) Dean Patzer, Chicago, Ill., 10
7. (7) Fabio Orsolon, Brazil, 10
8. (10) Sean Rayhall, Winston, Ga., 10
9. (9) Victor Carbone, Brazil, 10
10. (13) Nick Tonkin, Port Coquitlam, B.C., Canada, 10
11. (12) Lee Carpentier, New Canaan, Conn., 10
12. 1M (14) Dom Bastien, West Palm Beach, Fla., 10
13. (8) Victor Pedrosa, Brazil, 10
14. 2M (16) Tom Brown, Milwaukee, Wis., 10
15. (15) Gustavo Linares, Venezuela, 10
16. (6) Ashley Freiberg, Homer Glen, Ill., 9 (spin)

Race length: 10 laps of 4.0-mile road course for 40.0 miles
Time of race: 25 minutes, 31.061 seconds
Conditions: Sunny and warm
Margin of victory: 0.021 seconds
Lap leaders: Daly 1 – 2; Orsolon, 3 – 4; Newgarden 5 – 6; Orsolon 7 – 8; Polehtto 9; Daly 10
Cautions: None
Fastest qualifier: Newgarden, 2:30.468 / 95.553 mph
Fastest race lap: Rayhall, 2:30.199 / 95.873 mph, lap 8

2008 Skip Barber National points standings after 10 of 14 rounds, top 15 drivers:
1. Josef Newgarden, 288
2. Felipe Polehtto, 286
3. Conor Daly, 282
4. Fabio Orsolon, 279
5. Stevan McAleer, 233
6. Connor De Phillippi, 222
7. Hayden Duerson 187
8. Nick Tonkin, 181
9. Lee Carpentier, 174
10. Gabby Chaves, 164
11. Dom Bastien, 145
12. Mark Bumgarner, 142
13. Victor Pedrosa, 141
14. Peter Tucker, 114
15. Victor Carbone, 104

081008a
Three laps from the end of race 1, the eventual winner is in fifth place — that’s Felipe Polehtto in the red car.

081008b
Anybody got a blanket?

081008c
On what would become the second-to-last last lap (thanks to the race-shortening FCY), Polehtto gets inside Connor De Phillippi in Turn Five.

081008d
This IS the last lap: Orsolon (98) next to Polehtto (46), barely in front of Daly (33) and De Phillippi (14).

081008e
A podium that finally saw Felipe Polehtto in the middle! Connor De Phillippi (l.), Fabio Orsolon (r.) and Masters winner Tom Brown (far right).

081008f
Race two: This may look like the first lap, or lap two, or lap three. Four? Nope, this is lap five…

081008g
… which looks a LOT like the last lap.

081008h
Race two winner Conor Daly has won three of the last six races…

081008i
… while Josef Newgarden has taken five consecutive pole positions and won twice in those six races.

081008j
No caption necessary.

Rick Roso, words & photos

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