Sharon, CT – Niki Coello came into his first full F2000 Championship Series season far from rookie status, with a collection of National Championships and hopes to contend for the title in his No. 81 RFR chassis. While the title would prove elusive, Coello collected podium after podium until scoring the first and only non-Van Diemen win in Series history in the pouring rain at Summit Point in August en route to a third place Championship effort.
“Coming into 2012, the goal was to win,” said Coello. “As for coming to F2000, it was just time for a change. SCCA club racing is great, however, the Runoffs being at Road America was making it very unfulfilling for me. The F2000 Series offered more competition at tracks I always wanted to race on. My awesome sponsors (RFR Racecars, Hoosier Tire, Afterburner Parts, Carbotech Brakes, Williams Racing Development, Speed Seat, and Pouredfoundations.com) are what made it possible for me to run the Series financially.”
Coello said he knew it would be a tough season, with large fields and the fierce competition the F2000 Championship Series is known for. “Most of the fast drivers were in RFRs, and I figured I just needed to beat the other drivers, not the other chassis. I was very surprised to see Robert (La Rocca) in a Van Diemen at VIR.
“I was a bit disappointed I wasn’t closer to winning more races,” he continued.”We made the car much better over the course of the year, but we also made some poor race-day setup calls that slowed down the process.”
VIR would go well, however, with a pair of podiums before a rough weekend at Road Atlanta, following surgery for what Coello called a fairly serious heart episode.
“My wife gave me the okay as long as I took it ‘easy’,” Coello explained. “That event was probably a bit premature. I definitely was not feeling 100 percent. I actually had one of my best qualifying positions for the second race, but on a restart went off and fell back a bit. Lime Rock was going to be my best event, second on the first day and passing for second the next race. Wyatt Gooden came across my nose as he was concentrating on passing Robert and, he ended up cutting my valve stem. It was very disappointing; because we were actually the closest to matching La Rocca’s speed there than any other track.”
A month later, Coello would grab some air time in his RFR and rip a wing off at New Jersey, leading to another tough result.
“In the first race I was actually in a fairly comfortable second place when I got on one of the exit curbs and launched into the air at about 120mph. I was just lucky to get the car back together for the second day and finish third,” he noted.
After the weekend, he headed to Hershey Park with his wife and two young daughters, in the family’s RV, which they bought just for the 2012 season. Notably, Coello and family drove from Wisconsin to every race.
“In order for me to be able to enjoy racing, I needed to bring my family along, and with most of the tracks being 900 plus miles away, a motor home was the only option,” Coello explained. “My wife and I decided to make the investment so we could do the championship. The first thing I did to the motor home was to modify the front TV so it would play movies with the ignition on, then we loaded all the Disney movies we could find into it. Believe me traveling 18,000 miles over the course of the season with a two- and four-year old is not an easy task, but it’s completely worth it.”
Mid-Ohio came and went with a third place finish, and then it was late August and raining at Summit Point on a Sunday afternoon. The race would unfold with car after car leading – and then going off – before Coello inherited the lead – but unlike the others, he did not go off the track, cruising to the first non-Van Diemen win in Series history.
“I think most good racing drivers think they are quick in the wet, that’s what makes winning in the wet so special,” he said. “They say that rain is the ultimate equalizer. It was a fun race. The track was probably one of the most difficult to drive wet than any I have experienced. It did feel great to at least get one win.”
Apart from the first place run at Summit Point, Coello said another highlight was a fast time in practice at Watkins Glen in October.
“It was a little damp. It seemed like La Rocca was always fastest. I had a couple second quick times but never first.”
Finally, Coello pointed out that he was the first place Dad in the final Championship standings.
“Those who have kids know how priorities change once they arrive. That’s my excuse anyway for not winning!”