Barrett Seeks Championship Glory Buttonwillow, Calif. – The hard-fought Pacific F2000 Championship Presented by Hankook resumes after a lengthy break this weekend with a pair of races on the scenic and immensely challenging Infineon Raceway, near Sonoma, Calif.
Patrick Barrett holds a commanding lead in the point standings after eight of this season’s 12 races, and while he hasn’t competed since the last two Pacific F2000 races in Utah in July, Barrett has had a hectic couple of months. In addition to celebrating his 18th birthday on August 30, and shortly thereafter passing his driving test (so he is now legally able to drive on the open roads), Barrett, from Los Osos on the central California coast, added another highlight to his growing résumé by being selected as one of two 2007 Team USA Scholarship winners.
Barrett will follow in the footsteps of such luminaries as Jimmy Vasser, Bryan Herta, Buddy Rice and A.J. Allmendinger when he carries the patriotic red-white-and-blue colors at the Formula Palmer Audi Autumn Trophy in England later this fall. Right now, though, he is focused on clinching the Pacific F2000 title – on a track where he dominated the Formula Russell Championship last season.
"I’m extremely excited about racing in Sonoma this weekend," said Barrett, who has claimed five wins and three runner-up finishes this year aboard PR1 Motorsports’ #3 Jim Russell Racing/Alpinestars Van Diemen. "This is sort of a homecoming for me because I have such a strong history here with the Jim Russell Racing School.
"I feel that this race will be one of the more challenging weekends this season," he admitted. "A lot of the drivers in the series have quite a bit of experience on this circuit. This is one of the more physical courses as well. The elevation changes and fast sweeping corners really test the driver’s and car’s endurance."
Prime among his challengers will be PR1 Motorsports teammate Thomas Merrill. The 21-year-old from Salinas, Calif., scored a beautifully judged first-ever professional victory last time out at the demanding Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. Merrill boosted his confidence still further by posting the fastest time during a well-attended test session in Wine Country last week.
"Infineon Raceway is one of my favorite places to race," declared Merrill, who currently lies second in the point standings – and best-placed of the rookies – with the #81 Merrill Farms/Smith & Hook Wineries/Ron Sutton’s Winner’s Circle Van Diemen. "It is very much a driver’s track and produces great racing. The track rewards consistent, smooth driving; over-driving there is easy to do and is very hard on tires. I have a very optimistic outlook going into the race, both because of my success at Miller Motorsports Park and because the track is one of my favorites. However the two-month break makes it easy for my competitors to forget that I won the last race, so I will have to push hard to re-establish that clout."
Another contender with a point to prove is Chuck Hulse, who hails from Yorba Linda, Calif., but has enjoyed extensive success at Infineon Raceway with the Jim Russell School. Rather than being a youngster seeking to make a career out of racing, however, Hulse, 54, is an accomplished businessman – albeit one with a racing pedigree. His father, Chuck Sr., contested four Indianapolis 500s in the 1960s, including a seventh-place finish in 1967.
Hulse Jr. has won the Masters division (for drivers 51 years and older) six times already this year and now has his sights set on a first win after finishing a fine second in Utah with Team G.FRO’s #19 Silicon Salvage Van Diemen.
"I’ve put approximately 10,000 miles on this track in the past seven years," said Hulse. "I gotta tell you, [Team G.FRO race engineer/driver coach] Ian Lacy has my car on a rail; the car was going as fast as the motor could push it. I’m ready to give the kids a run for their money! My knowledge of this race track and the fact that I’m finally getting used to this F2000 car has really got me excited for this coming weekend."
The action will comprise a practice and a qualifying session and a 30-minute race on both Saturday and Sunday as part of the National Auto Sport Association’s race weekend on one of this nation’s premier road courses.