Skip Barber National: McAleer & Riley Win at Miller

Saturday, September 15, 2007 [Photos from weekend at end of story/results]

TOOELE, Utah – In two really good races at Miller Motorsports Park, the BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda saw a first-time winner – Stevan McAleer – and the second win of the year for A.J. Riley. It was points leader Joel Miller’s two podium finishes, however, that not only eliminated two title contenders, McAleer and Kyle Lawrence, but made it unlikely that Riley or Ricky Taylor can keep Miller from clinching the championship and the approximately $350,000 prize that goes with it in the season-ending doubleheader at VIR next month.

The maximum number of points Riley can score is 389; Taylor, 395. So regardless of what those two do at VIR, Miller, now with 366, needs to notch a total of 29 points. That’s an average finish of 16th place…

Here at Miller, it was, um, Miller who led the first lap of race one. Polesitter Lawrence had to slot in behind Miller, who had gotten a good start from third on the grid, drafting Lawrence down the long front straight and getting to the inside of Lawrence going into One. But Miller’s car went instantly into full understeer mode and by the end of lap two, Lawrence was already back in front, trailed by Taylor, McAleer and Juan Pablo Glover Contreras. Miller had dropped to fifth.

‘‘I was concerned, yes,’’ Miller said, ‘‘but I knew if I could get heat into the fronts, I’d get the handle back.’’

In the meantime, you could throw the proverbial blanket over the frontrunning pack. Miller Park’s stupefying number of corners and long, long front straight gave every driver ample opportunity to set up and draft. By the time lap three ended, we had yet another leader – Taylor – with McAleer second, Lawrence third, JPGC fourth and Timmy Megenbier fifth. Yep, Miller had lost another spot and was in sixth, fighting with Josef Newgarden and Fabio Orsolon.

At this point, the race ‘‘settled’’ a bit, as McAleer seemed content to hook up with Taylor to try to gap the dogfighting pack behind them. The biggest threat was coming from Megenbier, who by lap four was into third, as both he and Miller got around Lawrence and JPGC. By lap six, guess whose tires had gotten up to temp to match the setup? Yep, Miller. He dispatched Megenbier to take over third place.

On that same lap, up front it all changed, thanks to a dust devil. From the start of the race, the wind had been blowing like you read about, 25 mph+. It didn’t effect the cars’ stability so much as it was throwing desert dust and dirt all over the track. Coming down to Turn 19, a fast lefthander, McAleer was on Taylor’s gearbox. But his eyes were high enough that he spotted the remains of a passing dust devil. ‘‘I saw that, hmm, it could be slippery in there,’’ McAleer said afterward in his fine Scottish brogue. ‘‘So I checked up a bit earlier. But Ricky didn’t and yup, off he went.’’ Taylor hustled the car right back on, but McAleer was gone, his first win of the year. Taylor would have to settle for second.

But third was far from settled. On the next to last lap, Miller fell prey to Megenbier and Lawrence and was back to fifth. Even heading to the last corner on the last lap, fifth appeared to be Miller’s fate. But Lawrence really wanted to take third from Megenbier — and saw daylight going into the final corner, a banked, third gear lefthander. But it was too slippery at the bottom and though there wasn’t contact, both he and Megenbier went off. There was Miller’s P3. Beau Debard, the Ford Focus Midget up-and-comer who understands that wannabe NASCAR drivers need to be road course experts too, came home a fine fourth, with Lawrence recovering for fifth, Contreras sixth, followed by Megenbier, Newgarden, Orsolon (his best result since a debut-fifth at VIR in April) and Riley, an uncharacteristic 10th (he had made a last minute decision to change cars, despite qualifying sixth, and it ended up biting him. Lesson learned…).

Race two had Newgarden on pole, his third of the year. Miller again was starting inside row two and again he made the green-flag draft work, getting into second as the field exited One. Riley, McAleer and Orsolon making up the Gang of Five on the first lap, Riley got a run on Miller coming out of the last corner and took over second down the straight and went after Newgy. Now these two began to gap third-place Miller. Lap three, Riley did the same thing to Newgarden; he set up a run-and-draft out of T23 and popped to the front before Turn One. But Newgy didn’t much like that state of affairs and late-braked Riley into Five to re-take the lead – and they both exited slow. Their dicing was letting the guys behind catch up. Five turns later, Riley got underneath Newgy in 10 for the lead once again. And the Gang was all there again.

With Riley [barely] out front, instead of hooking up, Miller, Newgarden and McAleer went at it like gangbusters, which caused two things to happen. First, Riley started to gap them and two, a mini-gang of Taylor, Orsolon and Lawrence caught them.

It was nuts. Behind Riley, the positions were changing virtually every corner. At one point, they were three wide into, through and exiting Five. Outside of Riley making a mistake (unlikely — he was was driving spot-on perfect), the fraught fighting was guaranteeing a Riley victory.

Second place was still a toss-up between Taylor, Miller, Newgarden and McAleer (with Lawrence in a position to pounce if everything went to hell in a handbasket). The four of them came firing out of the last corner and crossed the line in a dead-heat to begin the last lap, nose nipples flying and front wings bending. By the time they got down to One, Miller was on the inside, McAleer exactly wheel to wheel alongside, Taylor a half-car length back. It had to sort out in some fashion… and it did, with Miller holding on to second and McAleer third, Taylor getting hung out to dry on the outside as they turned into Three. But Taylor wasn’t done and sliced under McAleer with brilliant brake touch into Five, but his compromised line let McAleer run up past him as they headed into Six. And that was that. Out of the last corner, McAleer gave it one more shot to try to snag second from Miller but he wound up a 10th of a second shy.

So the tally for the weekend was this: Miller, driving ‘‘conservatively,’’ gets a second and a third to score 62 points (only McAleer pocketed more over the weekend, 65); Riley wins one, but the 10th place in the first race means he leaves here with just 56; and though Taylor tallied 60 points, he still lost ground to Miller. It’s not over ‘til it’s over, but heading to the VIR finale, the championship is Miller’s to lose.

Results, BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda

September 14, 2007, round 11 of 14, BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda
Miller Motorsports Park, 23-turn, 4.486-mile road course
Starting position in parentheses

1. (4) Steven McAleer, Scotland, 8 laps, 81.616 average mph
2. (2) Ricky Taylor, Apopka, Fla., 8 laps
3. (3) Joel Miller, Hesperia, Calif., 8
4. (7) Beau Debard, Verdi, Nev., 8
5. (1) Kyle Lawrence, Fort Gratiot, Mich., 8
6. (5) Juan Pablo Contreras, Guatemala, 8
7. (12) Timmy Megenbier, Melrose Park, Ill., 8
8. (9) Josef Newgarden, Henderson, Tenn., 8
9. (10) Fabio Orsolon, Cabo Frio, Brazil, 8
10. (6) A.J. Riley, Wilton, Conn., 8
11. (8) Julien Gerbi, Nice, France, 8
12. (14) Juan Carlos Sistos, Mexico, 8
13. (16) Dion Von Moltke, South Africa, 8
14. (15) Jonathan Gore, Franklin, Tenn., 8
15. 1M (19) Dick Lippert, Wichita, Kan., 8
16. 15 in class (11) Jeff Oleen, Bethesda, Md., 8
17. 16 in class (13) Lee Carpentier, Great River, N.Y., 8
18. 2M (17) Jeff Kaiser, Santa Clara, Calif., 8
19. 3M (21) Dom Bastien, New Canaan, Conn., 8
20. 17 in class (22) Marc Bastien, New Canaan, Conn., 8
Did not start: Quentin Wahl (Q18), Michael Auriemma (Q20)

Race length: 8 laps of 4.486-mile, 23-turn road course for 35.9 miles
Time of race: 26 minutes, 22.795 seconds
Conditions: Sunny and warm
Margin of victory: 2.205 seconds
Lap leaders: Miller 1; Lawrence 2; Taylor 3 – 5; McAleer 6 – 8
Cautions: None
Fastest qualifier: Lawrence, 3:14.605 / 82.987 mph
Fastest race lap: Newgarden, 3:16.357 / 82.246 mph, lap 8

September 15, 2007, round 12 of 14, BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda
Miller Motorsports Park, 23-turn, 4.486-mile road course
Starting position in parentheses

1. (8) A.J. Riley, Wilton, Conn., 7 laps, 82.448 average mph
2. (3) Joel Miller, Hesperia, Calif., 7 laps
3. (2) Steven McAleer, Scotland, 7
4. (6) Ricky Taylor, Apopka, Fla., 7
5. (1) Josef Newgarden, Henderson, Tenn., 7
6. (4), Fabio Orsolon, Cabo Frio, Brazil, 7
7. (9) Kyle Lawrence, Fort Gratiot, Mich., 7
8. (15) Timmy Megenbier, Melrose Park, Ill., 7
9. (11) Beau Debard, Verdi, Nev., 7
10. (16) Juan Carlos Sistos, Mexico, 7
11. (7) Julien Gerbi, Nice, France, 7
12. (10) Jeff Oleen, Bethesda, Md., 7
13. (5) Juan Pablo Contreras, Guatemala, 8
14. (13), Lee Carpentier, Great River, N.Y., 7
15. 1M (17) Dick Lippert, Wichita, Kan., 7
16. 2M (18) Jeff Kaiser, Santa Clara, Calif., 7
17. (14) Jonathan Gore, Franklin, Tenn., 7
18. 3M (19) Dom Bastien, New Canaan, Conn., 7
19. (12) Dion Von Moltke, South Africa, 6 (electrical)

Race length: 7 laps of 4.486-mile, 23-turn road course for 31.4 miles
Time of race: 22 minutes, 51.136 seconds
Conditions: Sunny and warm
Margin of victory: 2.314 seconds
Lap leaders: Newgarden 1 – 2; Riley 3 – 7
Cautions: None
Fastest qualifier: Newgarden, 3:15.117 / 82.769 mph
Fastest race lap: Megenbier, 3:14.080 / 83.211 mph, lap 4

2007 Skip Barber National points standings after 12 of 14 rounds, top 15 drivers:
1. Joel Miller, 366
2. A.J. Riley, 334
3. Ricky Taylor, 323
4. Stevan McAleer, 309
5. Kyle Lawrence, 299
6. Timmy Megenbier, 292
7. Josef Newgarden, 276
8. Jeff Oleen, 262
9. Juan Carlos Sistos, 247
10. Juan Pablo Contreras, 232
11. Jonathan Gore, 222
12. Julien Gerbi, 218
13. Lee Carpentier, 194
14. Fabio Orsolon, 158
15. Taz Smith, 128

Masters Division, Skip Barber National points standings after 14 of 16 rounds, top 15 drivers:
1. Dick Lippert, 428
2. Jeff Kaiser, 411
3. Dom Bastien, 389
4. Quentin Wahl, 203
5. Peter Ludwig, 134
6. Harsha Sen, 110
7. Mike Distaulo, 108
8. Alan Baia, 64
9. Chris Oliver, 58
10. Stephen Kalogridis, 58
11. Tom Capizzi, 58
12. John Greist, 52
13. Ron Yarab, 50
14. Tom Lehmkuhl, 48
15. Jeffrey Pietz, 30

Next event: Season finale, October 4-6, VIR with Grand-Am Koni Challenge

The start of race one; Joel Miller (white 70), Kyle Lawrence (blue 99), Ricky Taylor (red32) and A.J. Riley (blue 56).

Timmy Megenbier (red 27), Lawrence and Juan Pablo Glover Contreras (blue 43) early on in race one.

About three-quarters of a lap later, Taylor (32) got caught out by a ”dust devil” and ceded the lead to Stevan McAleer (79).

Stevan McAleer gets ready to celebrate his first Skip Barber National win.

McAleer, Taylor and Miller gettin’ gloriously wet…

Dick Lippert (c.) won the Masters Division, ahead of Jeff Kaiser (r.) and Dom Bastien. Lippert has a slim lead over Kaiser for the championship, who’s been dealing with an injured right hand for the past four races. These two will duke it out for the title at VIR in October.

The start of race two.

This dice behind A.J. Riley (red 30) played into his favor and he drove perfectly to his second win of the year.

The beginning of the last lap of race two: Left to right it’s Taylor, McAleer (bent wing), Newgarden (missing nose-nipple) and Miller.

Seconds later, here they are braking for Turn One.

Even before the podium ceremonies, A.J. gets a call from Ron Dennis. Riley said no…

Miller’s conservative approach to the weekend paid dividends, scoring more points on the weekend except for McAleer.

Lippert also won the second race in the Masters Division. That look on his face can only mean trouble, Dom!

Story and photos, Rick Roso

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