VIR: It’s Wehrheim in Race One, Rossi in Race Two

Sunday, April 23, 2006 Click here for race-action photos

Here’s the “Media” version of the National points, which includes the box scores from each race

ALTON, Va. – Chris Wehrheim came out of nowhere to win Saturday’s race. On Sunday Alexander Rossi at age 14 became the youngest-ever driver to win a Skip Barber National event thanks to a last-lap pass on the points leader. The two races here at Virginia International Raceway supporting the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series event couldn’t have been more different weather-wise — race one a water-soaked spinfest, race two in perfect conditions surely dialed-up by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce — but the two races were twins with regard to the racing itself. Textbook examples of slice-and-dice open wheel road racing.

Wehrheim, 20, from Norcross, Ga., came to VIR having missed the SBN openers at the Laguna A1GP event in March. But he had won Skip Barber sponsorship at its Karting Scholarship Shoot-out last year and brought that money here. Good call. All Wehrheim did was lead all but one practice and qualifying session, then proceed to win Saturday’s race in deplorable conditions. Of the 19 cars in the field, the only one not to suffer a spin, crash and/or four-off was Wehrheim’s. From pole he led lap one, fell back to third on lap two (which went full course yellow in order to retrieve four damaged cars, one of which was seventh-starting Cory Turner’s), then hung tight with leader Marco Di Leo and second place Kyle Lawrence. On the fourth lap Wehrheim got down inside Lawrence in Turn One – then must certainly have wryly smiled as Di Leo in front of him and Lawrence in his mirrors both pirouetted off milliseconds later! Done deal from there on in, as Wehrheim never put a wheel wrong and cruised to a near 15-second margin over Justin Moon, the winner of a furious and quite entertaining battle between himself and Alex Doman (ending when Doman fell off the road on the next to last lap).

Chris Wehrheim made sure he had the best visibility — such as it was — by running up front.

The drive of the race was courtesy of Richard Heistand. Veteran of all of 15 races (he did his racing school in January of 2005!), he qualified fifth, his highest, but spun off the road just after the re-start, rejoining 13th. Refusing to succumb to the red mist, he put his head down and rocketed through the field, snatching third from Di Leo with two laps to go. Fifth was Ricky Taylor, making his debut SBN start – with famous father Wayne in attendance, of course, driving the Sun Trust DP over the weekend. Rossi recovered from a nose-in into the tires in Turn Five for sixth, with Lawrence, Jonathan Gore, Kyle Wiegand and Jason Fennessey rounding out the top 10.

Justin Moon (#57) got a run on Alex Doman and got him going up to the Esses.

Alexander Rossi tags the tires in race one when he dropped his rights just off the road while braking for Five and went skating. He calmly backed her out, rejoined and finished sixth! An even better day was in store for Sunday…

Wehrheim had a little bit of VIR seat time prior to the race weekend: 12 laps in a Grand-Am Cup car in 2005.

Race two: Weather perfect, track in great condition (just a little dampness in Oak Tree), the R/T 2000s back on their BFG slicks. The start: Three wide right down to the apex of One, third-starting Heistand on the inside, polesitter Wehrheim in the middle, Di Leo on the outside.

Race two, start, entering T1: Heistand (#70), Wehrheim (#11), Di Leo (#44).

It was a hold your breath moment, but amazingly there was no contact and Heistand emerged out front, Wehrheim second. Heistand stretched a gap almost immediately. Near the end of lap two, Heistand locked ‘em up braking for T14 and now Wehrheim and Di Leo were all over him. Flying down to One to begin lap three, Wehrheim saw an opening inside and went for it. Too late, it turns out. Just before mid-corner he pushed up into Heistand, spinning him, then the two cars found themselves entwined as Di Leo sauntered into the lead. They both got rolling again quickly, but all the funny business had allowed Rossi, who had taken five spots in just two laps from his row five grid spot, to latch right onto the gearbox of Di Leo.

Lap three, Wehrheim nudged Heistand in Turn One when he couldn’t get her whoa’d up.

Rossi actually passed Di Leo on the penultimate lap, but Di Leo took it back a few turns later.

Now those two went at it. Rossi took the lead going into One the next time by, but Di Leo got it back before the lap was complete. Then, on the last lap, three corners from the finish, Di Leo covered the inside as they shot down the backstraight and headed to 14, a downhill righthander. Rossi had no choice but to go outside. He stayed off Di Leo’s flanks long enough to reach the next corner, a downhill left, and took the lead away. And with that a 14-year-old race car driver won a professional open-wheel road race in America, in terrific fashion. And Heistand? Yet another heads-up race: Running fifth with a lap to go, he got Mario Adrian Ochoa for fourth somewhere on the backside then took up P3 when Wehrheim understeered off in Turn 10. Second in points Moon had contact early in the race and retired with suspension damage.

In case anyone didn’t know, Heistand never karted, and only took his Three Day school in January of 2005, at Moroso. So far, he’s got less than two dozen races in total under his belt.

In the points chase for the $100,000 title bonus, with two new winners – one who came in with no points (Wehrheim) and the other (Rossi) 56 tallies from the lead – Di Leo (who had led every lap of both races at Laguna Seca) actually increased his gap, from 16 over Moon to 61 points over Rossi, who leapt from sixth to second. Moon is now third, a scant five further back.

At 14, Rossi has made history, becoming the youngest winner ever of a professional open-wheel road race. Oh, and Mom, we caught him drinking champagne!

April 22, 2006, Round 3 of 14, Skip Barber National Presented by RACER
Virginia International Raceway, 17-turn, 3.27-mile road course
Starting position in parentheses

1. (1) Chris Wehrheim, Norcross, Ga., 9 laps, 64.550 average mph
2. (9) Justin Moon, Shingle Springs, Calif., 9 laps, -14.716 seconds
3. (5) Richard Heistand, Orlando, Fla., 9
4. (2) Marco Di Leo, Markham, Ont. Can., 9
5. (8) Ricky Taylor, Altamont Springs, Fla., 9
6. (12) Alexander Rossi, Nevada City, Calif., 9
7. (4) Kyle Lawrence, Fort Gratiot, Mich., 9
8. (18) Jonathan Gore, Franklin, Tenn., 9
9. (15) Kyle Wiegand, Bargersville, Ind., 9
10. (16) Jason Fennessey, Andover, Mass., 9
11. (10) Mario Adrian Ochoa, Mexico, 9
12. (11) Enzo Pastor, Philippines, 9
13. (3) Alex Doman, Conifer, Colo., 7
14. (6) A.J. Riley, Wilton, Conn., 1 (accident)
15. (13) Jonathan Goring, Norfolk, Conn., 1 (accident)
16. (7) Cory Turner, Bakersfield, Calif., 0 (accident)
17. (17) Duncan Ende, Los Angeles, Calif., 0 (accident)
18. (19) Chris Castagna, S. Boston, Mass., 0 (accident)
19. (14) Andy Rossetto, Grafton, Wis., 0 (accident)

Race length: 9 laps of 3.27-mile, 17-turn road course for 29.43 miles
Time of race: 27 minutes, 21.342 seconds
Conditions: Very wet
Winner’s average speed: 64.550 mph
Margin of victory: 14.716 seconds
Lap leaders: Werhrheim, 1; Di Leo, 2 – 3; Wehrheim, 4 – 9
Caution laps: One caution period for 1 lap (lap 3)
Fastest race lap: Moon, 2:34.272, lap 8
Fastest qualifier: Wehrheim, 2:09.878 / 90.639 mph

April 23, 2006, Round 4 of 14, Skip Barber National Presented by RACER
Virginia International Raceway, 17-turn, 3.27-mile road course
Starting position in parentheses

1. (10) Alexander Rossi, Nevada City, Calif., 5 laps, 88.777 average mph
2. (2) Marco Di Leo, Markham, Ont. Can., 5 laps, -0.435 seconds
3. (3) Richard Heistand, Orlando, Fla., 5
4. (11) Mario Adrian Ochoa, Mexico, 5
5. (1) Chris Wehrheim, Norcross, Ga., 5
6. (6) Kyle Lawrence, Fort Gratiot, Mich., 5
7. (12) Alex Doman, Conifer, Colo., 5
8. (16) Jonathan Goring, Norfolk, Conn., 5
9. (5) Jason Fennessey, Andover, Mass., 5
10. (8) Kyle Wiegand, Bargersville, Ind., 5
11. (19) Cory Turner, Bakersfield, Calif., 5
12. (15) A.J. Riley, Wilton, Conn., 5
13. (9) Jonathan Gore, Franklin, Tenn., 5
14. (11) Enzo Pastor, Philippines, 5
15. (4) Ricky Taylor, Altamont Springs, Fla., 5
16. (18) Duncan Ende, Los Angeles, Calif., 5
17. (13) Andy Rossetto, Grafton, Wis., 5
18. (17) Chris Castagna, S. Boston, Mass., 5
19. (7) Justin Moon, Shingle Springs, Calif., 2 laps, suspension damage

Race length: 5 laps of 3.27-mile, 17-turn road course for 16.35 miles
Time of race: 11 minutes, 03.006 seconds
Conditions: Dry
Winner’s average speed: 88.777 mph
Margin of victory: 0.435 seconds
Lap leaders: Heistand, 1 – 2; Di Leo, 3 – 4; Rossi, 5
Caution laps: None
Fastest race lap: Jonathan Gore, 2:09.982, lap 4
Fastest qualifier: Chris Wehrheim, 2:25.947 / 80.659 mph (wet-to-damp)

SBN Points standings, top 15 drivers, after 4 of 14 rounds:

1. Marco Di Leo, 241
2. Alexander Rossi, 180
3. Justin Moon, 175
4. Mario Adrian Ochoa, 159
5. Jonathan Goring, 150
6. Alex Doman, 149
7. Richard Heistand, 122
8. Kyle Wiegand, 114
9. Chris Wehrheim, 112
10. Jason Fennessey, 105
11. Kyle Lawrence, 103
12. Duncan Ende, 73
13. Andy Rossetto, 72
14. Ricky Taylor, 57
15. Jonathan Gore, 51

Next two races: May 19-20, Lime Rock Park

Words & photos, Rick Roso

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