Southern Series Finale
Tuesday, April 05, 2005 In a great weekend of Regional racing on Daytona International’s famed high banks and road course, Murray Marden scooped the Sportsman title to join overall titlist Matt Varsha as 2004-2005 Southern Series champions. Kevin Scott took his first win after 12 years of SBRS racing, while Andre Villarreal took his first win — and then another! And David Libby grabbed the Southern Regional Masters title.
Daytona’s 24-Hour configuration favors the draft experts and as usual, the racing was close and occasionally, wonderfully frantic…
The first start was waved off after Henry Zogaib jumped the start. Second time around George Ebel led into Turn One followed closely by Andre Villareal and Rookie of the Race Tony Mugnola. These two drafted past Ebel on lap two and started to pull away, with Villareal doing a great job the rest of the way, gapping Mugnolo by 7.2 seconds to snag his first Skippy win in a flag-to-flagger. Well done! Meanwhile, a train of cars battled for third place, including new driver Mark Jensen (who spun himself out of contention) and Henry Zogaib and Rob Ward, who hit each other twice on one lap in their charge to the front. After pitting Zogaib retired and Ward continued posting fastest lap but was unable regain the time lost. Third place was then fought over by Mark Fee and new driver Richard Evans, who eventually claimed the point.
Villareal led flag to flag with Mugnolo in second. Starting third, Evans knocked his ignition key off and coasted to a stop on the second lap, leaving rookie Damon Petty to protect the spot from a hard charging Zogaib. Damon hung onto Zogaib, who finished third, and behind these two a great drafting train formed up: Greg Gimbert, Fee, Jensen and Marc Charbonneau. Ultimately it was new driver Charbonneau who took a terrific fourth place.
John Greist led from the start with David Libby right behind him. On the second lap Chris Hill running in third place crashed heavily in the chicane bringing out the red flag. On the restart Matt Varsha took the lead having started at the back and a hard-charging Jeff Relic stayed with him to the flag, posting fastest race lap and being beaten by a mere five hundredths of a second. Behind these two, Lucas McConnell grabbed third from Greist who was fending off Chris Oliver. Laura Rowe and David Harris finished sixth and seventh, respectively, just one-hundredth apart after a race-long tussle.
Having cracked a bone in his ankle in the previous race, Chris Hill had to sit this one out. Varsha again chose to start at the back but after a pit stop for a four-off check did not make it back to the front, leaving Jeff Relic to take a well deserved win with Lucas McConnell in a solid second. Libby had to fend off both Greist and Oliver to take third, and Rowe and Harris renewed their battle and once again finished side by side.
This was the race of the day with the Sportsman’s championship hanging in the balance. Mike Gomez, starting on pole, was just a handful of points behind Murray Marden, who started fourth. But at the start, it was Kevin Scott and Carlos Llano who duked it out for first place whilst the two title contenders battled for third. Towards the end of the race these four drivers merged into a single tight group and Gomez took over second place — which he held until the flag. Timing had to sort out the positions and when the dust settled Scott won his first ever SBRS race and Gomez in second had a taken a precious 4 points off Murray’s lead. Llano finished third and Marden fourth. Rookie of the Race Ricky Taylor (one of famous sportscar racer Wayne’s sons) wound up sixth (recovering from an early spin) following a terrific dice with Rhonda Hill, fifth.
The race was stopped before one lap was completed when Taylor and Larry Huang tangled in T3. At the restart Kevin Scott, with Gomez on his gearbox, towed a chain of cars. Gomez briefly led Scott on lap 4 whilst Brandon Huff and Llano battled for third. Championship leader Marden went four-off at the chicane, earning himself a safety check — and seeing his championship slipping from his grasp.
But the gods must have been smiling on Marden. Huff, who passed Gomez for second place behind Scott on lap six, then spun at the exit of Turn Four — causing Gomez to take to the grass to avoid! Now it was Gomez’s turn to pit and the Sportsman title was once again in the balance.
Gomez came out of the pits in eighth and although he got back to sixth, Marden finished right behind him to claim the Sportsman’s title by two very slim points. At the flag Scott won from Llano with a surprised and a delighted Jim Lowe taking his first podium. Chris Peters and Marc Bastien rounded out the top five.
Pope John Memorial
Starting on pole Dom Bastien held his lead for several laps before Matt Varsha and Jeff Relic demoted him to third — and then had his mirrors full of Mike Gomez, who tracked him to the flag. David Harris and Laura Rowe renewed their previous battles to finish fifth and sixth.
Our congratulations again to Matt Varsha for securing the Championship honors (at Roebling Road in March) and to Murray Marden, a wonderfully deserved Sportsman trophy now in hand. We also salute Chris Hill, second place in the Championship Group (despite the chipped bone), and Mike Gomez, second overall in Sportsman after his spirited title chase.
And Kudos to David Libby, who is both the Masters and Grand Masters Champion of 2004-2005 in the Southern Series.
The title-deciding Regional Masters Race (here’s the, um, ”see/hear/speak no evil” podium) ended up a three-driver battle between David Libby (c.), John Peterson (l.) and Mike Gomez (r.), with Libby winning the race and the championship.
At the banquet, we found out Rookie of the Year was Mike Gomez, and the Most Improved Driver was Murray!
And let’s all remember, none of this great racing and huge fun could happen without the Skip Barber Racing Mechanics, who did a noteworthy and stellar job — again.
Finally, commiserations to Jonathan Miller and Chris Hill for their broken bones: Get well soon guys!
Coming right up is the April 8-10 Western Race Series finale, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Tim Traver locked up Championship Group honors last month at Laguna, but Jeff Kaiser, Dom Bastien and Curt Berg are going to vie hot and heavy for P2!
And the Sportsman title is up for grabs, just as we saw in the South. Here it’s Sprague Theobald only 11 points up on Duncan Ende. Kaiser and Bastien are also going to go at it hot and heavy for the Masters honors.
The start of the East and Midwest is now just around the corner — a combined event at fabulous VIR April 22-24 — so don’t delay giving your SSA a call if you want get in. The And an exciting announcement regarding a Skip barber “Triple Crown” championship is due soon, so watch this space!