There was no touching Conner Ford in this weekend's pair of races for the Pacific F2000 Championship Presented by Corsa Car Care at Buttonwillow Raceway in central California. The 14-year-old phenom from Carson City, Nev., qualified his No. 77 PR1 Motorsports Van Diemen on pole for both 25-minute races by a comfortable margin and was never seriously challenged on either day.
Ford's two victories, allied to another win in the opening race of the season at Willow Springs International Raceway, has vaulted him into a clear lead in the championship standings.
"It's pretty cool to be leading the championship," said Ford. "I've never actually been in a real championship [chase] before because even when I was in karting I used to race at different tracks all the time; but it's really fun and different because I'm actually trying to be consistent and put more thought into it without just trying to win every time.
"The PR1 team has been great," added Ford. "They have so much experience and they have really taught me how to work on managing tire wear and things like that."
On Saturday, Ford was chased home by Bob Negron, who once again proved to be the top Masters contender (over 50 years of age) in his self-run Van Diemen RF99. Negron, from Morgan Hill, Calif., who won the second race at Willow Springs in April, enjoyed a battle virtually throughout Saturday's race with leading Expert (aged 35-50) Ira Fierberg until the Manhattan Beach, Calif., attorney collided with a lapped Formula Ford car at the Esses on the final lap. The resulting brief off-course excursion caused Fierberg to slip to fourth behind Dave Freitas Racing teammate Kyle Kuntze.
Kuntze, 21, from Poway, Calif., continued his rapid learning curve by finishing a clear second in today's race. The rookie took advantage of a rare mistake by Negron, who spun at Turn 1 on lap 2, costing him the opportunity to claim a fourth consecutive podium finish this season. Negron instead had to be content with sixth.
"I just tried too hard," admitted Negron. "I overcooked it. I thought I caught it, and then I was backward."
David Cheng, from Sammamish, Wash., rounded out the podium today in another PRI Motorsports Van Diemen. Cheng, who finished second in the championship last year, took the position after a race-long battle with Fierberg's No. 27 Pinnacle Performance/LDF/DFR/Quiksilver Van Diemen and the rapidly improving Peter Thomas, from San Juan Capistrano, in the No. 7 PR1 Motorsports Van Diemen.
"I had two epic races this weekend," said Fierberg. "I was bummed to get taken out yesterday and a bit frustrated that I didn't manage to get onto the podium, but it was great to battle so hard with these guys and a lot of fun."
Ford now holds a 22-point advantage over Negron, 119-97 after four races. The Pacific F2000 series will continue with two more races at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California in Fontana on June 11-12.
The debut of the Pacific Formula F Super Series, for 1600cc cars, saw Jeff Sakowicz, from Sonoma, Calif., claim a pair of victories in his Van Diemen. Ed Erlandson (Swift DB-6) and Paul Wittrock (Swift DB-1) shared the runner-up spoils.