New Challenges Face the Pacific F2000 Racers Buttonwillow, Calif. – A brand-new Hankook tire, a demanding new race track and high ambient temperatures will keep the Pacific F2000 Championship contenders on their toes when the burgeoning open-wheel development series visits the imposing Miller Motorsports Park road course in Tooele, Utah – just west of Salt Lake City – later this week.
Almost two dozen competitors are expected to jostle for honors as the Pacific F2000 series reconvenes after a two-month hiatus. As usual, two 30-minute races will be held – one on Friday and another on Saturday – as part of the Big O Tires NASCAR Grand National West race meeting on July 13/14.
Patrick Barrett, from Los Osos, Calif., leads the point standings at the season’s halfway stage. The talented 17-year-old has won four of the six races including a two-race sweep last time out at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in the PR1 Motorsports team’s #3 Jim Russell Racing School/Alpinestars Van Diemen.
"I feel very confident going into Miller," says Barrett. "It will be a difficult weekend though because of the heat. I believe it will be in the high 90s, and the track is quite demanding.
"The softer Hankook tire will be a bit of a challenge," he continues, "especially in the second race. It’s softer than what we’re used to running and the hot weather only makes it more demanding on the tires. The track is fast and sweeping so consistency will be important too. It’ll be hard to break away by yourself I think."
As usual, Barrett will have plenty of rivals seeking to knock him off his perch.
Chris Spreitzer, 20, from Phoenix Ariz., already has won a race this year with the #7 BWM Engineering/Anglo American Racing Van Diemen. So too has rookie Mitchell Cunningham, also 20, from Auckland, New Zealand, who triumphed at Willow Springs in March aboard the #99 Windward Properties/Robert Cunningham Construction/Sniper Systems Van Diemen – the same Dave Freitas Racing-prepared car with which Robert Podlesni won the 2006 title.
Other principal challengers will include Barrett’s PR1 Motorsports teammate Thomas Merrill, who claimed two impressive podium finishes at Buttonwillow, and Max Hyatt, who recently won a round of the East Coast-based F2000 Championship Series at the famed Burke Lakefront Airport temporary circuit in Cleveland, Ohio.
"Last event we showed we had what it took to win but came up a little bit short," notes Merrill, 21, from Salinas, Calif. "Miller Motorsports Park is an incredible facility and it will provide a great opportunity for us to get our first win of the season, but it won’t be easy. The competition will be as tough as ever, and with the new softer Hankook tire, tire management will be a large factor, especially in the dry heat of Utah. I am looking forward to an exciting race and a chance to improve in the point standings."
"We learned a lot in Cleveland about how to be up front on a fast sweeping track," adds Hyatt, 20, from Santa Fe, N.M., who drives for the Colorado-based Front Range Motorsports team. "I as a driver gained better techniques for dealing with fast sweeping corners which will play a big role as Turns One, Two and Three are all very fast at MMP.
"I think to be successful at Miller teams will have to find a good aero balance to deal with both the tighter corners and the extremely long straightaway," says Hyatt. "The competition is always steep in the Pacific F2000 series which means qualifying will be extremely important for track position."
The series regulars will face opposition from several locally based drivers, including Brazilian-born Ivan Utrera, who owns the renowned Rodizio Grill churrascaria-style steakhouse in Salt Lake City, and Rodizio Grill Racing teammate – and fellow Sandy, Utah resident – Terry Biner.
F2000 represents one of the first rungs on the professional open-wheel auto racing ladder in North America and has provided the launching pad for the careers of many top racers, including Champ Car World Series champions Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy, and Indianapolis 500 winners Buddy Rice, Dan Wheldon and Sam Hornish Jr.