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Watkins Glen Coverage:
Day One
Miller Wins F2000 Crashfest

Chris Miller in Action Image Chris Miller stayed out in front to win the first Watkins Glen F2000 race.

Watkins Glen, N.Y., July 3 The fireworks started a day early at Watkins Glen as the F2000 Championship Series contingent put on if nothing else an entertaining affair for the fans. Chris Miller (9th in the American Driver Ranking) was one of the few drivers able to keep his nose clean, winning the race from the pole to take over the points lead. Meanwhile, J.R. Hildebrand (ranked 1st) was unable to hold onto fastest lap, dropping to fourth on the grid in Firestone Indy Lights.

Recipe. Ingredients: open wheel cars, young, eager, fearless drivers with great dreams, wily veterans, most famous American road racing circuit, support race for biggest weekend on the series schedule. Steps: place in bowl, stir, simmer on low heat. Serving: an F2000 havoc DVD.

Barely anyone escaped the carnage in a race that was halted three laps early due to a red flag. Most figured if this was going to occur it would happen during the second race of the weekend, not the first when crews only have one day to repair the cars for qualifying.

Chris Miller grabbed the pole with a track record, lost the lead at the start, but got it back with an outbraking maneuver going into the Inner Loop. Behind him, the field somehow managed to get through unscathed. Not so on the second go around, as Matthew Inge (ranked 11th) lost his front wing while in third place.

"Going down the back straight on the second lap I got up alongside a car and they just moved over," Inge said. "I don't think they saw me in their mirrors, and he took the front wing off, and after that the race was over for us."

John Dole's Crashed Car Image The remains of John Dole's Van Diemen RF99/Zetec after his horrendous crash. He will not be able to fix it for the Sunday race. Thankfully, he walked away with only bruises.

The following lap the first full course yellow appeared due to a spin that occurred on the first lap. After the restart, all heck broke loose. Mike Mazziotti spun going into the Inner Loop. Brent Gilkes appeared to check up, but John Dole didn't anticipate the chain of events. Dole hit Gilkes from behind, sending Dole soaring into the air, flying into the tire wall that for some reason is set up just for this event in the grassy island between the Inner Loop and the original track. Dole's car was smashed to pieces as Colin Alexander also got caught out.

Colin Alexander's Crashed Car Image Colin Alexander was an innocent victim in the huge crash, ending his race.

"There were cars everywhere," Alexander said. "Cars were into the tires, Dole was airborne, and I went into the Bus Stop and just got hit."

Dole had a different reason for his airplane impersonation: "Very simply, I lost my front brakes going down the straightaway, got sideways, hit the rear of Brent [Gilkes], and he launched me in the air which slowed me down, thank God. And I landed into the big tire barrier. Regrouped and got out of the car as quick as I could."

At the restart, Miller began to pull away, leaving the battling behind him. And battled they did, as positions swapped throughout the field multiple times per lap. That kind of close racing was bound to end in trouble (again), and it did.

"Matt [McDonough] just spun in front of us and I was all over Camadella," Jonathan Scarallo said. "There were no yellow flags or anything and I had nowhere to go."

The incident in Turn Nine blocked the track resulting in a red flag, and with time running out, the race was called three laps short. Due to so many front runners eliminated from competition, Phil Lombardi found himself in second for his best finish this year with Remy Audette, missing his front wing when he, too, hit McDonough in Turn Nine, in third. Al Guibord, Jr took fourth, also his best finish.

"It was a great race, and for the championship it is even more important given where the other guys finished," Miller said. "Remy [Audette] got close to me on a few restarts but was busy trying to keep Matt [McDonough] behind him so I was able to stretch my lead."

Many teams will be up late fixing and preparing their cars for the second race qualifying which is Saturday and then the race on Sunday. After witnessing early fireworks, will we see late fireworks?

Ended Early. Benjamin Searcy (ranked 13th) didn't even make it to the race, crashing hard early in the qualifying session. "We had a rear turnbuckle break going down the straightaway, and it sent me right into the wall," he said. "We tore the whole right side of the car off, messed the front wing up, rear wing. It was just a little too much to change before the race."

Thus Searcy was forced to play spectator. "I didn't really want to watch the race, but they made me watch just to try to learn something from Chris [Miller] and Remy [Audette]," Searcy said. "Maybe it will be pole position hopefully tomorrow and in for the win on Sunday."

Best Start. Indy Lights qualifying saw two American drivers go in the opposite direction. Hildebrand started out very fast, topping the timing sheets early on. However, he seemed to peak too soon, unable to improve at a rate the others did, dropping Hildebrand down to a fourth starting spot. James Davison got the pole, followed by Hildebrand's teammate, Sebastian Saavedra, and James Hinchcliffe.

Charlie Kimball in Action Image Charlie Kimball improved throughout qualifying, winding up with his best starting position -- fifth.

Meanwhile Charlie Kimball consistently improved his performance, visibly going faster each time around when on a hot lap through the Inner Loop and Turn Five complex. It paid off as Kimball finished fifth, his best Indy Lights starting spot. Previously, his best start was seventh, done twice. His best finish was also seventh, also done twice.

As for the other Americans, Daniel Herrington, who looked strong in the session, qualified seventh. Andrew Prendeville will start 12th, with Mike Potekhen one spot behind.

It will be a very interesting race on Saturday to see which way the momentum goes for the top two American qualifiers.


Photos by

Copyright © 2009 by Russell Jaslow and American Driver Ranking. All Rights Reserved.

 
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