Young, Future Superstars
Cleveland, Ohio, June 24, 2006 — The young guns in the support series grabbed the headlines on Saturday at the Grand Prix of Cleveland. The standing start returned for the Atlantics where Graham Rahal drove a brilliant race in a come from behind victory. Meanwhile, in the FF2000 race, yet another dominating performance was turned in by an undefeated J.R. Hildebrand. In both races, the fields streamed through Turn 1 on the first lap without a scratch. Something the odds makers would never have predicted.
Standing Motion. Some consider the standing start to be the most exciting moment in auto racing. It made its return to the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship powered by Mazda at Cleveland. And what a spectacle it was.
My first exposure with a standing start was in the Atlantic series back when it was the Pro Formula Atlantic Championship sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America. It was at the Bridgehampton Race Circuit in 1980. I worked Timing and Scoring that year, and the tower was right on the start/finish line. They told us if anything happens at the start, to duck, since debris could easily come flying through the windows. Miss the best part? I don't think so!
To witness up close a full field of powerful open wheel cars go from zero to full speed in a matter of seconds like a monster unleashed still gives me goose bumps. It remains one of the most exhilarating moments of my life.
Today's start was a beauty. Simon Pagenaud got off the line perfectly while Andreas Wirth stumbled. The field stormed into turn one, negotiating it perfectly. Perhaps the new cones on the inside are doing their intended purpose. The race itself may go down as a defining moment in Graham Rahal's development as a driver. He came from a fifth starting spot, got a great start, drove hard, was aggressive when he had to be, and took advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves. This translated to an astounding driving performance by the victorious young phenom.
Whether the standing start is right for every series, whether it should be included in the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series powered by Ford, and how the safety factor plays into the decision, I'll leave for another time. However, I can tell you of one time the standing start should never have been used.
It was during an Eastern Motor Racing Association (EMRA) event that I was competing in, also at Bridgehampton. They decided to have a standing start for the Formula Vee class. Interestingly, there were other classes in the race group, so they sent off the rest of the field with a normal start. Then, quickly following this first start, the Vees, only four of them trailing the pace lap, stopped at the start line and lined up in formation. When we heard this was going to happen, we all ran to the pit wall, excited like little children on Christmas morning.
The flag waved, and four underpowered race cars puttered off the line as if in slow motion with barely a sound. It was one of the most unimpressive moments of my life. It's like going to a strip club, and then finding out the local ordinance outlaws the girls from taking their clothes off. Nothing against FV -- they put on some of the most exciting racing you will ever see especially at the SCCA Runoffs -- but as for standing starts, let's leave those for the bigger boys.
Total Domination. J.R. Hildebrand, an 18-year-old kid from Sausalito, Calif. has been untouchable in this year's Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 Championship. Coming into Cleveland, Hildebrand has won ever race this year, tying the consecutive win record set last year by Jay Howard and in 1993 by Chris Simmons at six. He now owns that record with his seventh straight win. Hildebrand has also gotten nearly ever bonus point, leading the most laps in every race and getting all but two pole positions, with Dane Cameron grabbing the other two including today's.
"It's a little tough," Hildebrand said about being the marked man in the series before the race. "Obviously, Turn 1 at Cleveland isn't the best place to worry about survival. It's been a great year so far. As long as we can get through the first turn."
Not only did Hildebrand make it through the first turn okay, by the end of the first lap, he had a huge lead. He never looked back, and went on to a commanding 12.432 second victory margin.
"The start was better than I imagined," Hildebrand said in the understatement of the weekend.
"Of course, it's a little frustrating," Dane Cameron said of trying to chase his fellow Californian. "It just drives you to dig deeper and find more in the car and find more in yourself."
"I'm going to try to break J.R.'s streak today," Cameron said before the race. Afterwards, he said, "We'll chase him again like every race."
I urge Champ Car fans to keep an eye on the early ladder series such as FF2000. Not only is it great racing, but it is where future stars come from, including some great young Americans. Two of whom happen to live thirty minutes apart near Sears Point and compete even closer on the track.
As for the start of the FF2000 race, it too went through without a hitch. Though, the field produced so much tire smoke, I am amazed anyone was able to see where they needed to go. With the Atlantic and FF2000, as well as the Touring Corvette Challenge, all producing starts without a single Turn 1 incident, the Champ Car field will be under a lot of pressure to duplicate their "lesser" brethren.
Belated Wishes. And finally, a very Happy Birthday to the lovely Heather Haupt, the Public Relations Director of Rocketsports Racing, who celebrated her special day on Friday.
Copyright © 2006 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.