After opening their season on a tight and twisty infield road course in Puebla, Mexico, the drivers and teams of the Formula BMW Americas Championship will get to stretch their legs a bit this weekend as the series heads to the sprawling Virginia International Raceway course in Alton, Va.
One of the newer venues to be constructed in the United States, the 3.27-mile course VIR will host the third and fourth rounds of the 2009 Formula BMW Americas Championship on Saturday and Sunday April 25 and 26. The layout poses challenges that are reminiscent of some of the world’s great race circuits, and features a pair of long straights that will allow the FB02 race cars the chance to test the limits of their BMW powerplants.
“I’ve heard that VIR is a classic race circuit, so it should be an enjoyable challenge,” said Team APEX driver James Kovacic, who is second in the series’ point standings after two races. “I’m sure my team and I can continue our positive start to the season and only improve on our results.”
Kovacic and the rest of the field will have more than the demanding VIR circuit however as they look to slow the blistering start put up by EuroInternational’s Gabby Chaves. The Floridian became the youngest driver ever to win a Formula BMW Americas event when he took a pair of victories in Puebla, Mexico and not only holds the lead in the series, but has also propeled his EuroInternational squad to an early lead in the team standings.
Chaves has yet to trail in an event this year, having won both Puebla races from the pole. The native of Colombia has already fashioned a 20-point lead over Kovacic, while EuroInternational teammate Daniel Vela holds down the third spot, 26 points in arrears to the rampaging Chaves.
“I have two Skip Barber national wins at VIR and it is a track that I feel very comfortable with,” Chaves recalled. “Because of our results at Puebla, we can realistically hope for two more wins and to extend our lead in the championship. I know its going to be tough to win but if we work like we did in Puebla it’s very likely that we can go home with another top result.”
Chaves’ advantage has been aided early by misfortunes that dogged two of his primary competitors. Autotecnica’s Gianmarco Raimondo and EuroInternational’s Giancarlo Vilarinho each scored second-place finishes at Puebla, but both were sidelined by problems in their other events, leaving them scoreless and tied for fourth in the standings.
The weekend will have a little local flavor as well as Alexandria, Virginia native Barrett Mertins (Jensen Motorsport) looks to benefit from his preseason testing at VIR to earn a strong finish. The Bishop Ireton High School graduate made his first-ever Formula BMW Americas start in Puebla and hopes to continue his improvement in front of a hometown
“I never really thought I would be driving race cars while I was in school. Now all I want to do is to keep moving up the ladder,” Mertins admitted. “All of us want to do F1, but that’s a big step. Really, my goal is to keep getting better and to be able to do this professionally. I tested here with Jensen in the preseason and I really like this track. It has a great mix of technical corners and flat-out speed that will make for a great weekend.”
The weekend gets underway on Friday for the Formula BMW Americas drivers with practice beginning at 11 a.m. and qualifying for Saturday’s race taking place at 1:30. Saturday’s race will be preceded by 8 a.m. qualifying to set the field for Sunday’s event, while the first race of the weekend will start at 10:30 a.m.