Summer Race Series openers at VIR

Saturday, May 09, 2009 There was no rest for the instructors, crew and staff of the Skip Barber Race Series as a week after the BFGoodrich Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda completed Rounds 3 and 4 of their 2009 campaign it was back to Danville, Va., this time on the 2.25 mile North Course at Virginia International Raceway, for the opening rounds of the 2009 Skip Barber Summer Race Series and Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Challenge. Muggy, overcast weather with occasional sprinkles made for a slippery track and lots of spins and four-offs during the weekend… and lots of action.

Group 1, Race 1 (Summer Race Series)
The 2009 season got off to a rousing start with a four car breakaway featuring Spencer Pigot, Kevin Tittle, Marconi Abreu and Al Carter. Hard racing for third between Abreu and Carter leads to contact between the two on Lap 5, sending both cars to the pits for the compulsory safety check, creating a gap between the lead duo and the rest of the field. Abreu and Carter’s contact was the opportunity for two Skip Barber Race Series veterans, Jim Craige and Pat Daly, to take over third and fourth. Marconi Abreu’s adventure wasn’t over yet, as a mechanical issue with the car driven by Brian Skinner resulted in contact with Abreu’s car in Turn 7. While Marconi was able to continue, Skinner wasn’t as lucky; his car down on course brought out the full course yellow, where the race ended with Spencer Pigot picking up his first win of the season ahead of Kevin Tittle, while Jim Craige completed the podium. Pat Daly came through for a fine fourth place ahead of Al Carter while Marconi Abreu recovered from his adventures to sixth. Grant Krieger finished seventh ahead of Dom Bastien, with Brian Whitmire and Bob Hagerty rounding out the top ten.

Group 1, Race 2
Race 2 started as Episode 2 of the “Pigot and Tittle” show, as Spencer and Kevin used their front row starting positions to their advantage and got away from the field at the start. While Spencer continued to pull away, Kevin went agricultural and from second on the grid he found himself last at the end of Lap 1. With 14 laps remaining Tittle got to work. Picking off slower cars and gaining positions as others battled or fell off the road, Tittle pulled himself back up to second place by Lap 6, setting off after leader Pigot. Behind them, Al Carter and Marconi Abreu resumed their Race 1 battle, first for second place then for third as Tittle worked through them. In the end Spencer Pigot completed the weekend sweep, taking a 16 second victory over Kevin Tittle with Al Carter in third. Marconi Abreu finished fourth on the road but a time penalty for a late four-off relegated him to seventh, behind Pat Daly, Jim Norman and Justin Lafever, but ahead of Brian Whitmire. Jim Craige came back from a Lap 3 off track excursion to set a new track record of 1:38.881 on his way to ninth while Dom Bastien finished in tenth.

Group 2, Race 1 (Summer Race Series)
Group 2 included several drivers from Group 1, with Al Carter, Jim Norman, Pat Daly, Dom Bastien and Brian Skinner taking advantage of there being two F2000 race groups to get in more seat time. The story of Race 1, however, was Nick Andries. When we last left Andries, the Pinellas Park, Fla. driver was one of the winners at the Skip Barber Karting Scholarship Shoot-out in December. The MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development driver began his 2009 season in fine style, leading from pole over Norman, Skinner and Bastien and drawing away from the pack. Behind him, chaos, with eight of 15 competitors falling off the course or bumping into each other, all in a vain attempt to catch the leader. Andries led every lap and set fast time of the race on the way to his first Skip Barber Race Series victory, winning by nearly 12 seconds over Al Carter, who was a further five seconds up on third place Jim Norman. After giving up three positions early, Pat Daly came from as low as 12th to a respectable fourth ahead of Dom Bastien, Brian Skinner and Ben Jopling. As and indication of how slippery the track was and how intense the competition, Bastien, Skinner and Jopling all crossed the finish line in the pits after completing their mandatory safety checks for late off track excursions. Greg Strelzoff and Dex Tuttle completed what was an exciting top ten.

Group 2, Race 2
With his victory in Race 1, Nick Andries started Race 2 from pole. In contrast to the chaos of Race 1, Race 2 was a much neater (and tighter) affair. First to take the fight to Andries was Al Carter, who briefly led on Lap 3 before Andries reassumed the point. Carter continued to press the issue until it all went wrong on Lap 8 when he overcooked Turn 5, went agricultural, evertually finding his way back to pits for a safety check. Carter would come out in eighth, taking up a battle for the balance of the race with Brian Skinner. Next up was Jim Norman, who was a ways back from Andries but with a gap between himself and the duo of Dom Bastien and Pat Daly. Norman spent six laps in the runner up spot before being overtaken by Spencer Pigot.

Pigot, who swept Group 1 for the weekend, jumped into Group 2 on Sunday, starting from the rear of the 14 car field. After picking up five spot by the end of Lap 1, Pigot settled down, picking of his competitors one by one, while working his way toward the leading Andries. Pigot got past David Cheng, Brian Skinner and Daly. Bastien, seeing what was coming, waved the charging Pigot past and by Lap 11 he was up to Jim Norman for second. Two laps later, second was Pigot’s and he set off after the leader. With a few more laps Pigot may have brought the fight to Andries, but could get no closer than 2.651 seconds at the checkers. Jim Norman held on for third ahead of fellow Grand Masters Pat Daly and Dom Bastien. David Cheng led Brian Skinner, the duo ten seconds back of Daly and Bastien, taking sixth and seventh ahead of Al Carter and Dex Tuttle. Greg Strezoff rounded out the top ten.

Group 3, Race 1 (MAZDASPEED Challenge)
The first race of the 2009 MAZDASPEED Challenge season was almost all about Lee Carpentier. From pole, Carpentier led a tight pack of cars to the green flag, with Phil Mather on his tail. Jim Craige had his hands full with Lustman and Andrew Pasquale for third place, setting his second track record of the weekend (1:47.243) during the scrum. Eventually, Craig came out with third and set off after Mather, ultimately nipping him at the line by seventh hundredths for second. Andrew Pasquale crossed the line in fourth, about two seconds back from second and third, but ahead of fifth place Ward Herst and sixth place John Snyder. Myron Turner finished seventh ahead of James Lustman, whose late spin dropped him to eightth. Nick Large and Steven Craige rounded out the top ten. Out front it was Lee Carpentier picking up his first win of the season and thereby earning pole for Sunday’s Race 2.

Group 3, Race 2
Race 2 was a tighter affair for Lee Carpentier. Starting from pole, Carpentier quickly surrendered the point to Phil Mather, who jumped Jim Craige, the other front row starter, at the green. A three car battle for the lead ensued with Mather, Carpentier and Craige all taking turns in front. Craige’s lead was short-lived as he went for a ride in the countryside in Turn 5, dropping him to 12th by the time he exited the pits following his mandatory safety check. This moved Carpentier back to the lead, followed by Mather, with Andrew Pasquale and Myron Turner, who were engaged in their own battle for fourth now fighting for the final spot on the podium.

That was pretty much how the race ended, with Carpentier taking the win and the weekend sweep ahead of Phil Mather and Andrew Pasquale. Myron Turner came in fourth, while James Lustman completed the top five. Ward Herst finished second ahead of John Snyder and the recovering Jim Craige, while Nick Large and Pablo Cisilino rounded out the top ten.

David Poole / Danielle’s Birthday Memorial
A field of 15 of Skip Barber’s finest instructors and valued customers jumped into what had to be a memorial of mixed feelings; at once remembering the life of the famed Charlotte Observer NASCAR reporter and at the same time celebrating the birthday of Skip Barber’s parts girl extraordinaire. Regardless of which you were observing; Jonatan Jorge stunk up the place. Starting last, Jonatan worked his way up to the lead by Lap 4 and from there he was gone. Steve Welk couldn’t get within ten seconds of the speedy Jorge; Gerardo Bonilla within fourteen. Jonatan took the mainly symbolic win, and set quick lap of the race by a clean four-tenths. “Brain” Skinner came in fourth overall and first in the customer class, followed by Kevin Tittle, Doppler and Harsha Sen. Greg Strelzoff finished eight with Michael Melvin and Al Carter rounding out the top ten.

The Skip Barber Summer Race Series and MAZDASPEED Challenge head next to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York and the legendary Watkins Glen International for Races 3 and 4 of there respective championships over Memorial Day weekend, May 23-24.

The thrill of victory! Nick Andries should know; he picked up two of them this weekend

Lee Carpentier in his office. He’s got the A/C blasting, his tunes on. He’s ready to sweep the weekend…

Kevin Tittle (l.), Jim Craige and Marconi Abreu (r.) join Group 1 winner Spencer Pigot on VIR’s podium.

Saturday’s Group 2 podium (l. to r.) Al Carter, 2nd, Nick Andries, winner, Jim Norman, 3rd and Rookie

Jim Altemus

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