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Tough Day for Team USA in New Zealand

January 18, 2004

Invercargill, New Zealand (January 18, 2004) –– All three Team USA Scholarship drivers began today’s Ford New Zealand Grand Prix with high hopes, but the squad ended its quest empty-handed after a series of incidents.

Joe D’Agostino landed in the hospital after suffering a broken left arm and a concussion, following a major accident on lap three which also ended the day of teammate Ryan Millen. Charlie Kimball kept the flag flying with a brilliant display as he charged into the lead after starting sixth, only for his aspirations to be dashed when he was controversially assessed a drive-through penalty following a coming-together with New Zealander Jayant Singh.

Kimball also played a starring role in a thrilling 10-lap preliminary race on Sunday morning. An 11-car train of ducking, diving Formula Ford cars ensured a spectacular sight in the early stages, but after starting eighth, Kimball soon began working his way forward. He was gifted a couple of places when Millen made a mistake which eliminated both himself and veteran Kenny Smith. Kimball, though, dispensed with impressive youngster Brendon Hartley and former New Zealand Champion Phil Hellebrekers in a pair of daring outside-line passes under braking for The Elbow, leading onto Teretonga’s long main straightaway. He also outbraked current series leader Chris Pither with a breathtaking pass at Castrol Corrner, and was hot on the heels of the first two, Tim Edgell and Simon Gamble, when the checkered flag flew.

“That was SO much fun,” shrilled an elated Kimball, who also set comfortably the fastest lap of the race. “You don’t even understand how much fun that was! The car was great. I didn’t have much straightline speed but the car was really working well in the corners. I’m looking forward even more to the Grand Prix now, because I don’t have to start so far back.” Kimball lined up sixth for the main event, which was scheduled to be held over 40 laps including a refueling break at half-distance. Millen gridded eighth after the Canterbury Motor Racing School team completed sterling work to rebuild his car following the earlier accident, while D’Agostino started 11th. (D’Agostino finished 12th in the earlier race after moving up a couple of positions and then indulging in a quick spin when he attempted to pass the experienced Simon Richards around the outside at the very fast Loop turn.) Kimball continued his impressive form in the early part of the Grand Prix. He outgunned Smith at the standing start and then surprised Gamble with one of his patented around-the-outside moves at The Elbow, so was running in fourth when the red flags waved after three laps following a frightening crash on the front straightaway when Millen and Marc Doran tangled wheels and the unfortunate D’Agostino was left with nowhere to go.

After a lengthy delay, the race was shortened by two laps and restarted, whereupon Kimball maintained his charge for glory and soon moved into the lead. He was even beginning to pull away when his chances of victory were increased after yet another incident took out fellow front-runners Hartley, Pither and Gamble.

While teammate D’Agostino was receiving treatment in a nearly hospital, Kimball had kept the American flag flying sensationally and was in a confident frame of mind when the first 20-lap leg was concluded. Soon after the restart, however, he came under attack from Singh, who had started at the back following a mechanical problem in qualifying and had steadily moved forward as others were delayed or eliminated. Young Matthew Radisich also was embroiled in the lead battle. Kimball and Singh exchanged positions a couple of times over the next few laps, with Singh displaying prodigious straightline speed and Kimball markedly quicker through the corners.

The deciding moment of the race came a few minutes after a clash between the pair at Castrol Corner ended with Singh parked in the gravel trap. The Chief Steward determined that Kimball had been at fault and called for the American to be assessed a drive-through penalty. Kimball was forced to relinquish his lead, falling all the way to the back of the pack. He managed to salvage ninth at the checkered flag, but was distraught at the outcome.

“So far as I’m concerned, I went to the inside under braking and he turned in on me,” said Kimball. “It was just one of those things. But I guess the stewards saw it differently.

“It was so gutting,” added Kimball. “It just hurts so bad. We didn’t have the straightline speed all weekend and the car probably wasn’t good enough to win the race, and [yet] I was out there in front and pulling away...” “It was certainly a disappointing day,” said Team USA Scholarship founder Jeremy Shaw. “Obviously, all our thoughts are with Joe, who seems to be doing well. We all hope he makes a speedy recovery and we look forward to watching him take up his Barber-Champ Car Scholarship prize of a drive in this year’s Barber Dodge Pro Series. But I was so proud of our three guys. It appeared our motors weren’t quite on a par with the quickest cars this weekend, but the whole team worked hard on their cars’ handling and all three were very, very competitive.” Following Kimball’s penalty, the wily old Smith, 62 years young, took over the lead and survived a last-lap scrape with backmarker Robin Judkins to hold off teenager Andy Knight for the win by a scant 0.007 seconds. (Smith had also won New Zealand Grand Prix titles in 1976 and 1990!) Edgell, who took third, now leads the Talley’s International Formula Ford Series points table after four of six races.

Several valuable prizes are up for grabs when the title-chase reaches its conclusion next weekend at Ruapuna Park Raceway, near Christchurch, including a two-day test with the Barber Dodge Pro Series; a test in a brand-new Star Formula Mazda car; a test in a PR1 Motorsports Formula Ford 2000 Zetec Van Diemen; and a free race weekend in the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School’s SCCA Formula Russell Championship Presented by Yokohama. All the prize drives will take place in the United States.

Results for Race One (10 laps): 1. Tim Edgell (NZ), Van Diemen RF03, 10m 49.876s, 88.462mph; 2. Simon Gamble (NZ), Spectrum 010, 10m 50.302s; 3. Charlie Kimball (USA), Van Diemen/Stealth RF94, 10m 50.311s; 4. Phil Hellebrekers (NZ), Spectrum 010, 10m 50.679s; 5. Chris Pither (NZ), Spectrum 07, 10m 50.851s; 6. Simon Richards (NZ), Van Diemen RF02, 10m 51.488s. Also, 12. Joe D’Agostino (USA), Van Diemen/Stealth RF94, 10m 57.779s; 26. Ryan Millen (USA), Van Diemen/Stealth RF94, 4 laps, accident. Fastest lap: Kimball, 1m 02.786s, 91.564mph

Results for Race Two -- 50th Ford New Zealand Grand Prix (38 laps): 1. Kenny Smith (NZ), Van Diemen/Stealth Evo 2, 1h 05m 58.783s, 55.183mph; 2. Andy Knight (NZ), Van Diemen/Stealth RF94, 1h 05m 58.790s; 3. Edgell, 1h 06m 00.115s; 4. Ben Crighton (NZ), Van Diemen/Stealth RF94, 1h 06m 03.343s; 5. Christina Orr (NZ), Van Diemen/Stealth RF94, 1h 06m 03.699s; 6. Andrew Higgins (NZ), Van Diemen/Stealth RF94, 1h 06m 04.623s. Also, 9, Kimball, 1h 06m 15.084s; DNF Millen and D’Agostino. Fastest lap: Smith, 1m 02.889s, 91.414mph

Unofficial Talley’s International Formula Ford Championship positions after four of six races: 1. Edgell, 92 pts; 2. Pither, 83; 3. Smith, 75; 4. Knight, 73; 5. Gamble & Kimball, 56; 7. D’Agostino, 53; 8. Orr, 43; 9. Higgins, 40; 10. Doran, 36; etc

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