Skip Barber Homecoming Weekend at Sebring

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 It was all open-wheel, all the time as central Florida’s 3.7 mile Sebring International Raceway played host to Rounds seven and eight of Skip Barber’s 2008-2009 Southern and Western F2000 Series. The last regional race on the full course at Sebring before the 12 Hour in March, the field was filled with drivers getting ready for the opening rounds of the 2009 BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda.

An added bonus this weekend was the addition of an alumni racing group that saw the return of some of the greats (and near greats) of Skip Barber Race Series’ past and not-so-distant past. The weekend also featured extra activities for friends and family members of the racers. While the drivers were out on the track, their supporters were over at the autocross course for a clinic featuring MX-5 Cup racecars and being treated to hot laps in Lotus Exiges. We topped Saturday off with a VIP reception at the Sebring International Raceway’s Gallery of Legends.

Group 1, Race 1 (Southern Championship)
The weekend’s recurring themes began their recurring from the start, as recent Skip Barber Karting Scholarship Shoot-out participant (and newly minted MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development driver) Dennis Trebing led from pole and walked away from runner-up Peter Ludwig and the rest of the field; a close tussle for second between Ludwig and another Karting Shoot-out alum, Matthew Mair, likely contributing to the 13 plus second margin of victory. Ludwig bested Mair at the stripe by 3-tenths of a second, followed soon after by Robert LaRocca.

The drive of the race went to Andrew Chinnici, who came from 15th at the end of Lap 1 all the way up to fifth place (and on LaRocca’s rear wing) when the checkers dropped. Chinnici was followed to the finish by Jim Norman, Ben Jopling, Kevin Tittle and Isaac Lyons, while Jay Fuchs rounded out the top ten.

Group 1, Race 2
A much closer margin of victory for Dennis Trebing in Race 2, as he bested repeat runner-up Peter Ludwig by about 2.4 seconds. The third spot on the podium went to still yet another Karting Shoot-out participant, Isaac Lyons, who moved up the order along with Andrew Chinnici and Kevin Tittle after original third place driver Robert LaRocca was assessed a time penalty for late contact between his #45 and the #91 of eventually 12th place finisher Matthew Mair. Steve Nemeth, Jim Norman, Michael Cooper and Jay Fuchs completed the top ten.

Group 2, Race 1 (Skip Barber alumni)
Matt Franc won Race 1…

Group 2, Race 2
Matt Franc also won Race 2…

Group 3, Race 1 (Western Championship)
The Western Series drivers next took their turn on Sebring’s 17 turns, and Kevin Tittle, another recent Karting Scholarship Shoot-out attendee, led every lap and cruised to a comfortable seven second victory over James Adams, his first in the Skip Barber Race Series. Another karter, Kyle Gimple, came from 10th on the grid to a strong third place ahead of Ethan Stone, who himself came from the back of the grid for a fine fourth, and David Cheng.

Kevin Tittle takes the customary bath after his first Skip Barber Race Series victory.

Abdul Ahmed, Jon Smith and Tim Vito had a close fight for sixth, seventh and eighth, with a little over two seconds separating the trio. Gavin Sun and Gus Doppes rounded out the top ten.

Group 3, Race 2
Before too long they’re going to refer to it as “pulling a Goihkberg”. After storming through the field from last to third at Homestead, Mikhail did it again at Sebring. Having not raced in Group 3 on Saturday, Goikhberg, still another Karting Shoot-out alum, came from 11th on the grid to the lead in three laps, where he swapped the point with Saturday’s winner Kevin Tittle. Tittle led early and as late as Lap 5 of 9 before fading to 6th. Kyle Gimple did his Saturday result one better, finishing second to Goikhberg by 9/10th of a second, followed by James Adams. Grant Krieger and Ethan Stone rounded out the top five, followed by Tittle, Gavin Sun, and David Cheng. Abdul Ahmed, Jon Smith and Tim Vito rounded out the field.

Group 4, Race 1 (Southern Championship)
Not withstanding the Alumni action to follow, the first lead change of the Race Weekend occurred on Lap 7 of Group 4’s first, as Kyle Marcelli got around polesitter Ashley Freiberg. Sadly for Kyle, a race win was not in the offing as mechanical issues took his car out of the running on the white flag lap.

Kyle’s misfortune was Ashley’s fortune as she resumed the lead she held for every other lap of the race and went on to her first Skip Barber Race Series victory, with Felix Serralles about three-tenths behind in second. Jeff Relic followed his Homestead heroics with a comfortable third place ahead of Mateo Perez and 2008 Skip Barber Masters National Champion Dom Bastien. Paul Fisk (6th) lead a quartet of karters; Dennis Trebing, Thomas Bonatz Spencer Pigot and Michael Dцrrbecker.

Bobo catches some shrapnel as Ashley Freiberg’s first Race Series win is commemorated with a good dousing.

With her win, “The Pink Nightmare” joins an elite group of women racers to take the checkers in the history of the Skip Barber Race Series. Did I mention that Ashley was yet another recent Karting Shoot-out participant to take home the big hardware this weekend?

Group 4, Race 2
The weekend ended on an exciting note as Spencer Pigot (another Karting Shoot-out alum. Stop me if this is getting too repetitive.) became the third driver to pick up their first Skip Barber Race Series win this weekend. Spencer started in the back half of the field and made his way to the lead by Lap 3, battling with Dom Bastien and Race 1 winner Ashley Freiberg. Bastien, the 2008 Masters National Champion, took the lead at the start from his fifth starting position and held it until Pigot got by on Lap 3. Dom then retook the point on Lap 4, leading until a mechanical issue dropped him from the lead lap and to an 8th place finish. Spencer stretched things out to a relatively comfortable six second margin of victory over Freiberg and third place Dennis Trebing. Michael Dцrrbecker came in fourth, followed by Mikhail Goikhberg and Felix Serralles. Jeff Relic came in 7th, followed by Bastien, Thomas Bonatz and Paul Fisk.

After 8 out of 12 races in the 2008-2009 Skip Barber F2000 Southern Race Series, the point battle is taking shape. With two wins on the weekend, Dennis Trebing now holds a 27 point lead over former point co-leader Andrew Chinnici, while the other former co-leader, Robert LaRocca is a point behind Chinnici in third. The Southern Series next meets up with the F2000 Western Series for a joint weekend February 14-15 at Sebring International Raceway. The Southern Series heads west for Rounds 9 & 10 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca March 7-8.

After 8 out of 12 races in the 2008-2009 Skip Barber F2000 Western Race Series, Emil Sildos also carries a 27 point lead over is main pursuer, Kyle Gimple, thanks to two strong races transferred into the Sebring Weekend. Kevin Tittle is a further 11 points back in third. The Western Series next hosts the Southern Series for Rounds 9 & 10 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca March 7-8.

But what of the Alumni races?

The Alumni group tests the podium at Sebring International.

Oh, alright. Race 1 turned into a two-way battle for the lead between Matt Franc and Craig Duerson, who swapped the point five times in ten laps before Franc took the win by just a tenth of a second over Duerson. From there the lap charts started to resemble a Richter scale as drivers went from the back to the front, the front to the back and just about everywhere in between. Chris Willcox, Peter Ludwig, Gerardo Bonilla and Peter Dannan, Jr. son of racing legend Peter Dannan, Sr., battled for third during the middle laps, with Willcox and Ludwig finishing third and fourth respectively. Fate (and mechanical issues) had other things in store for Bobo and Dannan, who both dropped from the lead lap late and ended up 14th and 15th respectively. Their woes moved John Peterson and John Pew up to fifth and sixth, followed by Bud Risser in seventh. John Mayes came back from two off course excursions to finish eighth while Michael Auriemma and Dr. Mike completed the top ten.

Racing legend Peter Dannan consoles his son Pete Jr. after finishes of 15th and 16th in the Alumni races.

Race 2 again saw Matt Franc and Craig Duerson check out on the field for their own personal battle for the gold. Again it was Franc coming out on top, this time by the (slightly more) comfortable margin of half a second over his old friend Duerson. About ten seconds back was Peter Ludwig, who improved on his Race 1 result after a pitched battle with Ger-bobo for third. John Peterson also did his Saturday result one better with a fine fourth place, followed by Dom Bastien and Bud Risser. David Libby crossed the stripe in sixth, but lost 20 seconds due to contact in Turn 3 with John Mayes. Randy Allison came in eighth, followed by Ron Yarab and the aforementioned Mayes.

All in all, it was a great weekend with the Alumni around. In fact, plans are already afoot to host another homecoming during the Summer Series. No pressure.

Jim Altemus

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