Alton, VA – The F2000 season officially got under way today with the first testing and official practice sessions of 2009 at Virginia International Raceway. At the end of the day it was American Chris Miller topping the charts with a lap of 1:54.532, half a second under the track record. Miller suffered gearbox problems during the morning session forcing his JDC Motorsports team to switch him to their VD RF03/Zetec backup car for the afternoon session.
“We went out on new tires and took some wing out between the sessions. The car was very balanced and I’m still getting comfortable in it after the long offseason,” said Miller. “We made a shock change halfway through the session which made the car turn in better and got rid of the push we had been fighting with all day.
Canadian Remy Audette wasn’t far behind by pacing two out of three morning sessions and then posting an afternoon time of 1:54.787, also under the current track record.
“It was a good day. We kept pushing and pushing looking for improvement. It was the first time out this year and I’m still getting comfortable with the car again. There is a big difference between a snowmobile and a F2000 car,” said Audette.
Audette and Miller paced the field in the afternoon sessions, gaping third place by just about half a second; combined times have Benjamin Searcy, Matthew Inge and Jessie Yorio rounding out the top five.
Before today Benjamin Searcy had very limited time in his Z-Sports Van Diemen, having completed only one brief test at Putnam Park prior to coming to VIR. “The car is great, it was all about finding space. We got an opening and were able to put down a good time. I think we would have been much quicker if there wasn’t as much traffic,” Searcy commented.
Matthew Inge returns to the series with St. Clair Motorsports after last getting behind the cockpit at Elkhart Lake last summer, “We’re just trying to get used to the car again. I haven’t driven it since Road America,” said Inge. “The last session was very consistent, we are going to have a good race pace.”
Jessie Yorio represents the only Piper chassis in the field, clocking in fifth position at a 1:56.059, “The car is great and we did that time on old tires. We have a new belhousing, new radiators, the car is much better now and very stiff,” said Yorio.
Newcomers Alegra Motorsports and drivers Victor Carbone and Fabio Orsolon completed their first official day as a F2000 team without incident.
“The cars are picking up a lot of speed,” said Alegra team owner Carlos De Quesada. “We are working out the kinks and getting quicker every session, Victor and Fabio are getting more acclimated in the car. The level of competition here is great and I’m impressed with how things are coming along. “
Phil Lombardi paced the first official session on a fresh track in the morning, clocking in at 1:57.709, four sessions later Lombardi went off at Oak Tree, ripping off the nose assembly and LF corner on the VD RF01/Zetec.
Jerry Szukulski was the fastest of the Masters class drivers in the #30 from St. Clair Motorsports, putting him eighth on the time sheets with a 1:56.673
Group A Racing debuted their F2000 program with Jonathan Scarallo and Colin Alexander. Alexander put the #12 solidly in the top ten in the afternoon’s practice sessions turning a 1:56.59, good enough for seventh.
Team owner Joe Scarallo commented, “I’m thrilled with today. Colin’s time was just awesome. We are having teething problems with Jonathan’s car which is taking away his track time and we really haven’t given him the chance to show what he can do yet. I think we are going to have two very fast cars for tomorrow”
2007 F2000 Champion Cole Morgan shook down Jeff McCusker’s car in morning testing, clocking in at 1:55.838, right behind Audette’s fast morning time of a 1:55.350
Tom Fatur was the first causality of the day when his Zetec motor let go three laps into the first session of 2008, “I was fine for three laps, and coming up the long back straight and boom, it just let go. The oil pressure was fine, there was no warning, just boom,” commented Fatur as the GTP Motorsports crew rushed to install a spare motor.
Many teams used the lunch break to change gear ratios as the air restrictor and mapping of ECUs for the Zetec powerplant has changed for 2009.
Barbados resident Brent Gilkes made his return to the cockpit after a crash at the season ender in New Jersey last season. “It was a bit like a first date,” said Gilkes. “The car didn’t really know me in the first session but I think she likes me again.”
Qualifying gets underway tomorrow morning at 9:30am with the first race of the 2009 championship schedule to go green at just after 2:30pm. Stay tuned to F2000ChampionshipSeries.com for live updates, photos and more.