Open Wheel Resurgence
(This piece appeared originally in the January 2012 issue of SportsCar in a slightly shorter form due to space limitation in the magazine.)
When Mike Rand, Bob Wright and Al Guibord Jr. started in 2006 they wanted an affordable F2000 series. This year five of the seven race weekends had races for F1600 as well. In October at Watkins Glen, in the face of a brutal economic climate,the series attracted 38 F2000 cars and 25 F1600 cars.
“We firmly believe we are the best bang for the buck,” says Rand. “We give drivers lots of track time and no mixed class races. They get two races each weekend, of extraordinary intensity. It is fierce racing in a friendly paddock.”It doesn’t hurt that last year’s F2000 Champ, Brazilian Victor Carbone, finished out his 2011 Indy Lights season with a pole and a win at Las Vegas. In addition to a deep field of U.S. talent, the series attracted a dozen drivers from other countries including Venezuela, Brazil, Australia, and Canada.
Orange Crush: Team Audette: Montreal Steamroller Takes F2000
Winning a championship takes a talented driver and a team with extraordinary commitment. Remy Audette and his team were anything but ordinary. In 14races Audette had an astounding 13 top-5 finishes including five wins, five poles and 10 podium finishes. Amazingly, they did not have a single DNF all season. At Watkins Glen in October, despite only having to start one the races toclinch the title, they did what they did all year -they ran full tilt.
“Remy is flying” was a common comment in the F2000 paddock in 2011.The fluorescent orange and blue Van Diemen was the class of a talented field. Audette was invariably first in line for each session, surrounded by three to four team members who were ready for anything. The 26 year-old Quebecois had contested the series in 2008, 2009 and selected events in 2010 but this year they were all in. “The challenge for us was to be good in all the races, not just a few. We were always there. That is what a championship is all about,” says Remy.
Audette was attracted to the U.S. series because it is well run and competitive. “There is no b.s., it is fair and there is a light mood in the paddock. We felt very accepted in the U.S.”Engaging in battle far from their home base did require some unique planning and execution. After a very successful weekend at VIR, for example, the team remained at VIR to prep the car for the next venue, Road Atlanta. They parked the rig at Quicksilver in Maryland and returned to Quebec.
Remy works with his parents at their family owned business. Both his dad, Francois, and his brother, Mathieu are racers and they have their priorities in place. “My father told me that there are a lot of guys who get in over their heads in racing and then you don’t see them again. I want to have a long career in racing. I want to race a series where I can go full out but one that I can afford. This was a great series for us.”
Remy is quick to credit his tight team.
“Sebastien Durand is our engineer and he is like a brother to me, I’ve known him for 23 years. Andrew Wojteczko is our technical advisor. He has experience both as a race driver and a team manager.And Jean-Denis Bernierhas been with us since 2004.
They came, they executed and they conquered–big time. It was always a battle; they were usually at the front. And over the long haul, nobody was close. “I want to thank my dad for giving me the opportunity to race,” says Remy.
Bill Valet - Inaugural F1600 Championship Goes Down to the Wire
Coming into the last weekend at Watkins Glen, Bill Valet was 13 points behind Tim Kautz. But Valet and his crew simply did not give up. Never was this more apparent than when he wrecked hard in qualifying at the June Glen event and had only 90 minutes to replace both right corners and attendant other damage. Luckily, in addition to his regular crew, his dad Tom, Mike Stroud and interim engineer Eric Langbein, Bill had a bunch of his Lehigh buds up for the race to attend a bachelor party. It was all hands on deck. And thanks to a five minute clean up delay from the prior race, they made it by the skin of their teeth. They not only made the race, they damn near won it.
The 27 year old Valet is a former karting champ from Long Island who began racing at age 9. He has now raced Formula F for five years and competed in both the inaugural F1600 Championship Series as well as nationals in 2011. Do they have the racing fever? After a late Saturday F1600 race at Lime Rock, they set off for Road America to run the first Runoffs qualifying session on Monday. Crew members Jim Little and Harry Martin of Drivers Services drove the rig straight through to Wisconsin. Later in the week Valet took home the silver medal.
Valet reveled in the pro series. “My car seemed to come alive with the slightly harder spec Hoosier tires. The chassis could now do its work. You had a bigger window to correct and slide the car on entry. I thought it was more fun than the stickier tires which are more of a point and shoot affair. It is a great series with top notch drivers who race hard but leave the fight on the track. The friendly sprit of club racing has carried over to this pro series. And they got the Ford/Honda power balance pretty darn close.” Bill lauded his Loyning Ford prepared by Drivers Services but Hondas won an equal amount of races as the Ford (Kent) motors.
His epic battle with Tim Kautz went down to the wire in the last race with Valet emerging with a 322 points to Kautz’s 317. Kautz led most of the year. “Tim and I learned a lot about one another this year. We talked frequently and had dinner together when we could. When I finally prevailed at the Glen he ran up from his paddock to congratulate me in victory circle. That shows you what kind of a guy Tim is.”
“Rand’s team is a class act. They listen to the racers and get us in with some big shows like ALMS and Rolex. And they race at great race tracks.”
Tim Minor – F2000 Masters Class Winner - A Serious Racer
Tim Minor may be fifty but he is a major threat to whip the young guns. “I like winning the Masters but honestly, I think I can win it outright. I feel like I’m on top of my game.” Tim says running with the young guys just makes him try harder. “Maybe I won’t stick a wheel in on the last lap because I have to fix it myself and I have to pay for it. But that’s OK. It is great racing with sensible rules.”
Minor finished fourth in points despite getting caught up in first turn melees on two occasions and crashing out at the last Glen race. “That’s 100 points right there. Everywhere else I was on the podium.” His Ski Motorsports team of long time crew chief Tim Reedy and engineer Eric Langbein have a professional approach in a relaxed paddock. “Most of the drivers come from the club side. They race hard but they also hang out with one another. We are guaranteed three full hours of track time every weekend. Everybody knows everybody and we really have fun together.”
Tim feels that rules consistency is a big plus. “I like the six-tire per weekend rule. It controls costs and forces you to strategize. The one move rule makes for cleaner racing.” Tim’s favorite weekend was Road Atlanta. “I was on the podium both times and I just couldn’t believe how fast we were in Turn One. It was just fast, man. It was super-fast,” he says grinning from ear to ear.
Colin Thompson – Busy Boy - Learning Lessons – Wins Alegra F2000 Test
The fastest kid in Penn Ridge High School is on a vertical learning curve but he’s got great people around him to keep him in line. His Dad, John, is a former National Champ in Formula Atlantic and his crew chief, Todd Hankinson, worked with Emmo on Indy Cars while at Penske. Colin also credits his driver coach, Phil Lombardi, with great information and advice. Colin finished fifth in points despite missing a key event and, as the best scoring driver under 21 years of age, he won a test in the Alegra F2000 car.
Colin’s life is series of tests and he’s OK with that. When he stepped into his Swift DB6/Honda at VIR in April, it was the first time he’d ever sat in the car. By the second race of that weekend he was contesting for the lead when he spun. “I was too rough with the downshift,” he says. “Lesson learned.” The 17 year-old Pennsylvanian is irrepressible and by season’s end was a contender despite breaking his leg mid-season in a quad runner roll over. “That was another lesson,” he groans.
At Lime Rock he had two podium finishes. “It was a life changing experience for me. We started last due to electrical problems and I made it all the way to fight for the lead and took third. It was a real turning point.” Colin is looking to move up to an F2000 car next year but he is going to repeat in F1600 as well, if possible. “It is such good racing and a great place to learn race craft.”
Significant Shout Outs
Kyle Connery – F2000 Rookie of the Year. Very fast but a little too furious. He won an incredible 6 races. It was all new to him this year. Just add discipline to a true talent.
Wyatt Gooden – Only entered four events but won them all! He nabbed three poles in this, his maiden outings in a formula car. Quantum Racing has a tiger by the tail.
Chris Livengood – Two wins, several might-have-beens. Small earnest team with super experienced John Walko at the helm. Ready to step up.
Tim Kautz – Two wins, classy, cool and calculating. Let down by motor woes after leading most of the F1600 season.
Jim Goughary – Former Formula Mazda National Champ and Trans-Am winner led off season with inaugural F1600 win at VIR, often at front, took third overall points.
Nathan Morcom – Aussie shocked troops with soggy season opener win at VIR. Showed speed and flair but little racing good fortune.
Art Foster–At point and at home at Lime Rock when it mattered. Consistent front pack runner took fourth in points.
Jeremy Greiner – Debuted self-built Ski Motorsports Citation with impressive results: four outings, average finish 4.5. To run full season in 2012. Watch this space.