(Originally written following the June 3-5 event at Watkins Glen for publication in a leading motorsports magazine.)
If you don’t like Watkins Glen, your soul is cold. The Glen is a virtual cathedral of speed and grace set in New York’s picturesque wine country. The view from the paddock is like a postcard as 38 mile long Seneca Lake marches off to the north. This is where road racing began in the U.S.You can feel it.
The F2000 Series and the F1600 Formula F Series were support events at the June 3-5 Grand Am Rolex at the Glen. The main paddock was jammed with racecars with fenders -primed to contest the steady pace of endurance events: the Rolex would go 6 hours on Saturday while the Continental Tire Series would run 2 ½ hours on Friday.
In the open wheel paddock, they marched to a different drum. More in keeping with the memories of Jimmy Clark and Gilles Villeneuve, the two open wheel classes prepared their formula cars for the pure warfare of old. Neither pit strategy, nor fuel conservation would likely determine who won these races. And you wouldn’t need a public address system to tell who was in front. In both these formula car series, it is full on from the green. The car with the best set up and the fastest driver wins. What a concept.
Each race weekend features two qualifying session and two races. Serious steps have been taken to control costs.
They run stellar venues - the F2000 schedule includes: VIR, Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen, Mid Ohio, Mosport, Lime Rock and back to the Glen. In this inaugural year for F1600, the FF brigade will join in at VIR, Watkins Glen, Mid Ohio, Lime Rock and back to the Glen. If you now race a Formula Continental or a Formula F, you can run these events with only minor changes. You can find more information at: www.f2000championshipseries.com and www.f1600championshipseries.com.
For a while it seemed that open wheel cars were going the way of the Mohicans. But the resurgence of interest in the Indy 500 and the continuing success of F1 demonstrate that formula car racing is alive and well and for good reason. Just stand at the fence at the Inner Loop at the end of the back straight. They call it the Bus Stop but they’re not stopping for anybody. Watching these lightweight, spindly single seaters storm through the chicane is simply breath taking. The high speed controlled abrupt changes of direction seem at first to be an illusion, like some sort of a magic trick being played on your eyes. But they do it lap after lap and they make a believer out of you. Some do it better than others.
In F2000, it was a Remy Audette two-step. He was first or second on virtually every practice and qualifying sheet throughout the event. More importantly, his fluorescent orange and blue Van Diemen was in front when it mattered. The man from Montreal would patiently stalk other leaders, wait to make his move, pounce and pull away. Young guns Chris Livengood(Saturday Pole) and Kyle Connery(Sunday Pole and a new lap record on Saturday), as well as Master Class ace Tim Minor, pushed Audette hard but could not best the cool, composed French-Canadian. To twice finish atop the leader board in an international field of 33 drivers including an Australian, three Venezuelans, two Brazilians, as well a strong contingent of U.S. drivers, was no mean feat. After 6 of 14 races, Audette has a 67 point lead over Kyle Connery in the F2000 Championship as they head into Mid Ohio on July 1-2.
Tim Minor, who finished third on Sunday, exemplifies the hard core racer’s take on the series. The auto repair shop owner from Northern Virginia is in his fifth year in the series and thrives in the F2000 Championship environment. “We have a spec Hoosier tire and you are limited to 6 per weekend. The engines go for years instead of days, and we get a terrific amount of track time. And we are on track only with cars in our class. I really love it. We have a great group of drivers, we run great tracks and we have officials who listen to the competitors.”
In F1600, Bill Valet’s Swift battled with Tim Kautz’s Piper both days and each gained a win.In Saturday’s race Valet and Kautz pulled away from 25 other cars and though Kautz stalked the leader seriously toward the end, Valet held his ground for a hard earned win.
Sunday was hardly so straightforward.For openers, Valet crashed in qualifying,taking off both right side corners, crumpling the exhaust and chewing up the rear bodywork. His engineer, Eric Langbein, had an hour and a half to get all the pieces back together again. Luckily Valet had a bunch of school buddies up from Lehigh University and their fire drill worked out, by the skin of their teeth. Langbein said that without a five minute delay for track clean up, they would not have made it. They not only made the race, they nearly won it.
Valet started 5th but took the lead on lap one when Kautz went off at the Bus Stop. Suitably motivated, Kautz, now in 11thplace, put his head down for what the track announcer would refer to as “the drive of his life.” Up front Valet dueled with a dodgy car as well as 17 year old talent,Colin Thompson, whose Swift/Honda was on pace. At first they pulled away but Valet spun at the Bus Stop and Colin spun to avoid him. Valet got going straight away but Colin was facing traffic. Meanwhile Kautz was entering the picture and was able to get by for the win. Valet’s duct tape special held on for a remarkable second place in a drive twice as courageous as his Saturday win.