The Southern Series Opener at Road Atlanta
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Joe Lee Middlebrooks and Cliff Brown put on a great show in the two inaugural Skip Barber MX-5 races. Middlebrooks won the first race while Skip Barber F2000 Race Series regular John Potter took R2. Photo by Sidell Tilghman
With one Championship Group, two Sportsman Groups and the first-ever Skip Barber MX-5 Cup Group – plus a Memorial – the 2007-2008 Southern Series opener at Road Atlanta saw nine races. That equates to 108 racing laps on Road Atlanta’s fast and sinewy 2.54 miles. That’s 275 wheel to wheel, nose to tail miles. Guess how many full course cautions laps we saw? One. That’s right, the only FCY was lap nine in Saturday’s Group Two race. You know what we call that? Heads-up, top notch racing.
There were four first-time winners – special congrats to Nathan Thompson, Cliff Brown, Ross Monckton and Joe Lee Middlebrooks (MX-5) – and 2007 Eastern Series championship runner-up Gabby Chaves set a new record for a treaded Skip Barber Formula 2000, turning a 1:35.438 in Saturday qualifying.
The debut of Skip Barber MX-5 Cup racing was by all accounts a great success. The Miatas that the Skip Barber engineering and car-build departments produced were awesome. The only change from the way the cars are prepped for the Racing School is we stiffen the rear bar and install full-on Hawk racing pads. At Road Atlanta, instructor Eric Foss, an MX-5 racer himself, was critically important in dialing-in the MX-5s in preparation for practice, qualifying and the races. Superb job, Eric, thank you…
This was the group with an interesting cast: Gabby Chaves (Eastern Series runner-up), Dion von Moltke (fifth in the Midwest Series), and perennially quick Jeff Relic, David Libby, John Potter, Hamilton Smith, Luca Orlandi, Harsha Sen, Chris Oliver, Kasey Kuhlman and Don Van. FBMW vet Lindsey Adams was here, too, plus the two scholarship winners from the Sunoco Ron Fellows Karting Championship/Team Ultra 94 run-off, Gianmarco Raimondo and Michael Vincec. Chaves from pole quickly galloped off in to the distance while behind him was an exciting scrum involving Vincec, Relic, Adams, Libby and Potter. But screaming up from the back was von Moltke, who had put it in the fence in qualifying after setting second-fastest time. By lap three he was already in the P2/P3 mix and on the next two laps he popped on Adams for third then Vincec for second. By this time Chaves was 10 seconds up the road, so it was left to von Moltke to fend off Vincec the rest of the way. With four laps to go Libby put Adams behind him for fourth, leaving Adams and Relic to scramble over fifth place, which Relic snagged on the last lap. Potter, Smith, Orlandi and Oliver rounded out the top 10. Raimaondo’s four-off, plus a spin, relegated him to 14th.
Chaves again led flag to flag, albeit this time only 6 seconds up on P2 at the checker. This race was a dandy between von Moltke and Vincec, who swapped spots virtually every lap. With three to go it was in the hands of Vincec, but von Moltke’s last-lap move got him the P2. Running fourth the whole race was Libby, but Relic was within a couple car lengths at the checker. From lap seven on, Smith and Adams had their own spot-swapping dice, with Smith making his own last-lap pass for sixth. Potter, Sen and Orlandi came home solo as they rounded out the top 10.
For the first eight laps, poleboy Sean Rayhall duked it out with Al Carter for the lead, with Roberto ‘‘Who’s Keith?’’ Dalton and Scott Panzer scrapping over third and fourth. On lap nine, it was all-change: Dalton went from third to first, Carter first to second and Rayhall second to third. Behind them, Diego Martin put it in the front straight wall after getting cattywampus at the exit of the Downhill, so that required a one-lap FCY (as mentioned, the only one of the weekend). On the re-start the order was Dalton, Carter, Rayhall, Panzer, Paolo Lima and Brian Skinner. Rayhall immediately took himself out of the running with a trip into the tulies in Turn Three, leaving the battle over the final three laps to Dalton and Carter. Last lap, the two go ‘‘side-by-each’’ into T10 and, well, contact was made. Carter came out in front and crossed the line ahead of Dalton. Two laps earlier, Lima had gotten around Panzer and crossed the line in third, and with the resultant time penalties to Carter and Dalton, Lima took the win, Panzer was second and Skinner third. Steve Djelebian and Nate Thompson were fourth and fifth, followed by Mike Sauer, Rayhall, Keith Smith, Carter and Dalton.
In another exciting, closely fought race, Thompson was the early leader as Dalton, Carter and Rayhall worked their way to the front. By lap four it was Thompson, Dalton, Rayhall, Lima and Carter. With Thompson keeping the lead, the next lap saw Rayhall in second place, Dalton P3, Carter fourth and Lima fifth. When Rayhall fell from second to fourth on lap six, the top five held steady in position for four consecutive laps despite lots of looks and pops: Thompson, Dalton, Carter, Rayhall, Lima. Over the last three laps it was frantic racing and Turn 10 again came into play as Rayhall and Dalton got things a bit wrong while going for the lead. When the checker flew, across the line it was Rayhall, Thompson, Carter, Lima, but the subsequent time penalties resulted in a Thompson win, Carter second and Lima third, with Bill Skinner and Rayhall rounding out the top five.
The first-ever Skip Barber MX-5 Cup race was appropriately close and fun, as the top three on any given lap were never more than a few car lengths apart. This was a lead-swapping affair between Joe Lee Middlebrooks and Cliff Brown. More than once these two went side-by-side under the Bridge! Middlebrooks led laps 1-3, 5-6 and 8-9, Brown laps 4, 7 and 10. With two to go, Joe took the lead for the final time but it was very close, as Brown was less than 2/10s behind at the line. John Potter was less than a second back in third place, followed by Don Norby, Ken Greenberg, Pax Lemmon and Mike Thompson. Good stuff!
More close-like-you-read-about racing, but this time Brown led the most laps in a race that again came down to the wire. Last lap, screaming out of the Downhill, Brown and Middlebrooks were side by side… and contact was made before the finish line. The post-race time penalties gave Potter the victory, with Norby second and Brown classified third, followed by Middlebrooks, Lemmon, Greenberg and Thompson. Again, kudos to all seven pilots for making the inaugural Skip Barber MX-5 races ones to remember.
The biggest field of the weekend (18 starters) saw Ross Monckton lead every lap but Doug Beachem was never far behind. The most action was seen over the remaining podium involving, at various times over the 12 laps, Bill Skinner, Panzer (from 15th), Austin Hopper and Carter. When Panzer got back to third place for the third time (on lap 10), it looked to be an almost-done deal. But Panzer got Turn 7 wrong on the last lap and went four-off and finished the race in the pits. That meant a P3 for Hopper and a fourth for Carter, who also had to come from the back. Panzer ended up fifth, followed by Bill Skinner, Robbie Hill, Brian Skinner, Diego Martin and Keith Smith.
The lead-battling in this one was between Monckton, Beachem, Carter and Hopper. On lap five Hopper got into Carter on the front straight. Carter ran P2 behind Monckton the rest of the way and made his required stop on the last lap and kept second place, as Carter’s gap to third place Brian Skinner was big enough to absorb it. Hopper made his stop too, but it relegated him to an eighth place finish. Another player, Beachem, caught a cone in his front suspension and had to stop to get it yanked. Beachem did well to still get a fourth while Hill shook off not having had the best of starts and came home fifth.
The PRS Memorial
Instructor Phil Lombardi took some kids to school as he set second-fastest race lap on his way from ninth on the grid to P1, crossing the line ahead of Gabby Chaves and Dion von Moltke – who had had contact with each other and ended up further back on the final results page. Sean Rayhall was thus second and ‘‘Doppler Dave’’ third.
December 1-2 the Western Series goes back to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for rounds three and four — there will be another MX-5 race group, too — followed quickly by the South’s December 15-16 Sebring event.
Also, we want our Race Series drivers, their friends and their families to know that Christmas and holiday gift certificates are on sale now. Anyone can save between $100 and $500 on the nine most-popular school programs by purchasing between now and December 31. Clickhere or here for more details.
In the meantime, think fast…