Skip Barber National at NJMP: Penalties Get Rayhall Win in R1, Then Daly Walks R2

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Monday, September 01, 2008

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Thunderbolt’s Turn Five, half-distance in race one. It was this close every lap, right to the end.

MILLVILLE, N.J. – At age 13 and a handful of months, Sean Rayhall became the youngest winner of a BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda by crossing the finish line in second place after 15 frenetic laps – too frenetic, as it turns out. In round 11 at New Jersey Motorsports Park, from the start the battling up front was typically hyper-close, involving Conor Daly, Fabio Orsolon, Connor De Phillippi, Rayhall, Stevan McAleer, Felipe Polehtto, Star Mazda driver Alex Ardoin and Josef Newgarden. The lead changed uncountable times on NJMP’s 2.25-mile Thunderbolt Raceway, but from mid-race onward, the driving got too aggressive. Three drivers were handed 20-second penalties post-race: the winner (Orsolon), fourth place (Daly) and eighth place (Polehetto). Orsolon and Daly were caught making blatant blocks, and Polehetto was nailed for avoidable contact (on the last lap, turn one, between he and Newgarden). Adding the time penalties moved Orsolon down to 10th, Daly to 11th and Polehtto to 12th. All three, plus Newgarden (fined, by the way, for a paddock dust-up with Polehtto after the race), are bundled at the top of the points standings, but series officials paid no heed.

Series Steward Randy Buck said, ”It’s nearing the end of the season so there’s clearly increasing tension; $350,000 [the championship award] will do that. But today the aggressive driving escalated to the point that it crossed the boundaries of fair and safe racing. We imposed the appropriate and necessary penalties. And I have to add, for a clutch of kids that are all still teenagers, their collective mature response to the penalties was refreshing.”

When all was said and done, the winner was Rayhall, followed by De Phillippi and Ardoin, with McAleer and A.J. Riley rounding out the top five. Take nothing from Rayhall, by the way. The barely a teen from Winston, Ga., was in it from the git-go, despite starting from the fifth row. In the slicing and dicing from the green flag, Rayhall was simply not intimidated by his far-more experienced trackmates. He got up to sixth, but with two laps to go he was officially in seventh. In the last two laps’ frantic position changes, Rayhall finagled his way into second place to reap the eventual rewards.

For his part, interloper Ardoin was stellar. He hadn’t been in a Skip Barber F2000 in two years and entered the weekend to get track time for the upcoming NJMP Star Mazda races mid-September. All he did was qualify third, just 2/10s off Daly’s pole time, then lead two separate times in the race. De Phillippi was no less deserving of his second-place, either.

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Sean Rayhall (#98) at this point trails Fabio Orsolon (#24) and Conor Daly (#84).

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A little bit late, but Rayhall gets his due… Photo by Greg Clark

Okay… with everybody on notice, race two began with Daly on pole again (the two poles for the weekend were not only Daly’s first and second of the year, but they’re worth a point a piece), Ardoin alongside, Orsolon and Newgarden in row two. The start was clean and not only did Daly make a great start, but the duking-it-out for P2 began instantly. ”I wanted to focus on making the first lap perfect,” Daly said. It was. Daly’s opening lap was nearly a full second clear of next-best Polehtto’s (buried in eighth) and more importantly, 9/10s faster than second-place Orsolon. ”From there, I just went as fast as I could, hitting my marks, working to make a gap that took the draft out of play.”

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The fight for P2 in race two was exciting and well-fought. On this lap, going into One are Stevan McAleer in the blue 50, with Alex Ardoin in the blue 14 and Felipe Polehtto in the red 46. Photo by Greg Clark

Which is exactly what happened. Pulling away from the six-pack that made up the fight for second by about 7/10s a lap, Daly was gone, gone, gone. This kind of win is rare; his 11 second margin of victory was the largest since April of 2006, when Chris Wehrheim spanked the field in the wet at VIR, winning by almost 15 seconds.

Meanwhile, the fight for second was as crazy as Saturday’s was for the lead, with all the same players. It was a pack of seven until three laps from the end, when Newgarden did a 360 in turn two. Over those last laps, the remaining gang of six put on a great show and when the dust (literally) settled, McAleer kept his title hopes alive, nipping Orsolon, De Phillippi, Polehtto and Rayhall by a total of just 3/10s of a second. Yep, second-through-seventh was that close across the line. Ardoin, it needs to be said, exhibited a grand gesture of sportsmanship. He was in fourth with a lap to go, but pointed everyone by on the run up to the checkered flag. ”It was nothing,” Ardoin modestly said. ”They’re all in a title hunt. I didn’t want to take points away from anyone. I’m here to win the Star Mazda races in a couple of weeks. I did what I needed to do.” Indeed…

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Just what Conor Daly needed/wanted: a solo, flag to flag win. Photo by Greg Clark

Coming into the weekend, 9 points separated top dog Newgarden from fourth-place Orsolon, with Polehtto second and Daly third. With the double-race finale at VIR in early October all that’s left, it’s still just a 9 point gap. But now it’s Daly on top with Newgarden second, Polehtto third and Orsolon fourth. Prior to NJMP, McAleer was 55 points out of first place – still mathematically in the hunt – and leaves here 46 down. De Phillippi came in 66 back and is now 57 behind. The two races at VIR are potentially worth 72 points – and each driver must drop his single worst result.

Needless to say, October 4 and 5 at VIR are going to be very interesting days.

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Left to right, the race two podium: Fabio Orsolon (third), winner Conor Daly, second place Stevan McAleer and Masters winner Dom Bastien (Peter Tucker won Saturday’s race). Photo by Greg Clark

Results, BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda

August 30, 2008, round 11 of 14, BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda
NJMP/Thunderbolt Raceway, 13-turn, 2.25-mile road course
(Starting position in parentheses)

1. (10) Sean Rayhall, Winston, Ga., 15 laps, 22:03.318, 91.815 average mph
2. (4) Connor De Phillippi, San Clemente, Calif., 15 laps, +.056
3. (3) Alex Ardoin, Lafayette, La., 15, +1.371
4. (2) Steven McAleer, Scotland, 15, +2.960
5. (11) A.J. Riley, Wilton, Conn., 15, +6.837
6. (8) Nick Tonkin, Port Coquitlam, B.C., Canada, 15, +18.284
7. (14) Lee Carpentier, New Canaan, Conn., 15, +18.330
8. (5) Josef Newgarden, Henderson, Tenn., 15, +18.691
9. (13) Victor Pedrosa, Brazil, 15, +19.295
10. (7) Fabio Orsolon, Brazil, 15 (first across line, +20-second penalty)
11. (1) Conor Daly, Noblesville, Ind., 15 (fourth across line, +20-second penalty)
12. (6) Felipe Polehtto, Brazil, 15 (eighth across line, +20-second penalty)
13. 1M (15) Peter Tucker, Dallas, Texas, 15, +32.374
14. 2M (12) Dom Bastien, West Palm Beach, Fla., 15, +33.062
15. 3M (9) Peter Ludwig, New Paltz, N.Y., Brazil, 12 (crash)

Race length: 15 laps of 2.25-mile road course for 33.75 miles
Time of race: 22 minutes, 03.147 seconds
Conditions: Sunny and hot
Margin of victory: 0.056 of a second
Lap leaders: Ardoin 1; Daly 2; McAleer 3; Daly 4; Polehtto 5; Ardoin 6; Daly 7; McAleer 8 – 10; Orsolon 11; McAleer 12 -13; Orsolon 14 – 15
Cautions: None
Fastest qualifier: Daly, 1:26.040 / 94.142 mph
Fastest race lap: Orsolon, 1:26.145 / 94.028 mph, lap 7

August 31, 2008, round 12 of 14, BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda
NJMP/Thunderbolt Raceway, 13-turn, 2.25-mile road course
(Starting position in parentheses)

1. (1) Conor Daly, Noblesville, Ind., 16 laps, 23:09.674, 93.259 average mph
2. (6) Steven McAleer, Scotland, 16 laps, +11.223
3. (3) Fabio Orsolon, Brazil, 16, +11.248
4. (5) Connor De Phillippi, San Clemente, Calif., 16, +11.285
5. (7) Felipe Polehtto, Brazil, 16, +11.488
6. (8) Sean Rayhall, Winston, Ga., 16, +11.506
7. (2) Alex Ardoin, Lafayette, La., 16, +11.774
8. (4) Josef Newgarden, Henderson, Tenn., 16, +13.284
9. (11) Victor Pedrosa, Brazil, 16, +33.358
10. (9) Nick Tonkin, Port Coquitlam, B.C., Canada, 16, +33.562
11. (10) Lee Carpentier, New Canaan, Conn., 16, +37.757
12. 1M (12) Dom Bastien, West Palm Beach, Fla., 16, +58.425
13. 2M (13) Peter Tucker, Dallas, Texas, 16, +1:03.659

Race length: 16 laps of 2.25-mile road course for 36.0 miles
Time of race: 23 minutes, 09.674 seconds
Conditions: Sunny and hot
Margin of victory: 11.223 seconds
Lap leaders: Daly 1 – 16
Cautions: None
Fastest qualifier: Daly, 1:26.156 / 94.016 mph
Fastest race lap: De Phillippi, 1:25.771 / 94.438 mph, lap 8

2008 Skip Barber National points standings after 12 of 14 rounds, top 15 drivers:
1. Conor Daly, 339
2. Josef Newgarden, 334
3. Felipe Polehtto, 331
4. Fabio Orsolon, 330
5. Stevan McAleer, 293
6. Connor De Phillippi, 282
7. Nick Tonkin, 227
8. Lee Carpentier, 218
9. Dom Bastien, 188
10. Hayden Duerson 187
11. Victor Pedrosa, 185
12. Gabby Chaves, 164
13. Peter Tucker, 149
14. Sean Rayhall, 148
15. Mark Bumgarner, 141

Rick Roso, words and photos

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