In a weekend with implications for the 2009 BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National title, two drivers – Sean Rayhall and Sage Karam – picked up big wins while championship leader Connor De Phillippi extended his point lead despite being shut out of the winner's circle for just the second time this season.
Race 1 Thursday was already going to be a long day for the drivers of the Skip Barber National, with qualifying at 8 AM for a race that was originally scheduled for 6:05 PM. The delay brought about by Scott Sharp's crash in ALMS open practice early in the afternoon only added to the problem as waning sunlight meant that Race 1's time slot became an abbreviated Race 2 qualifying session starting at 7:20 PM with Race 1 taking the green flag at 7:40 AM on Friday morning. Point leader Connor De Phillippi earned his fourth pole of the season in the morning session and led the field to the green flag in the early morning sun. At a track where drafting is king and contact inevitable, it didn't take long for the field to evolve from the organized rows of two at the start to a storm of flaring, bumping three- and four-wide action with the lead changing almost every lap… and that was just at the start/finish line.
First to lead was De Phillippi, who led the first three laps before being passed by Sage Karam, with Sean Rayhall and Spencer Pigot close behind. Rayhall, from Austell, Georgia, was driving with a heavy heart for friends and a hometown affected by recent flooding in the Atlanta metro area. After taking a couple races off, Road Atlanta was his big opportunity to shine in front of the home crowd, and shine he did. From his third starting position, Rayhall kept in the lead scrum for the entire race, taking the lead for the first time on Lap 9 before surrendering it back to Karam a lap later.
All the dicing up front allowed Court Vernon – second in points and looking to cut into De Phillippi's 42-point lead – to crawl back to the front after an opening lap off-course excursion in Turn 10A dropped him from sixth to 13th in the field. Vernon started slowly on his climb to the front, only breaking into the top five on Lap 10. Once in the lead pack, Vernon used the draft and his competitors' miscues to his advantage to continue his move forward and take the lead at the white flag.
The battle for the lead continued to the end, with the lead pair of Vernon and Rayhall racing side-by-side down the back straightaway, through the Turn 10A/B chicane, under the bridge and onto the front straight before Rayhall nosed ahead for a .262 second victory, his second in Skip Barber National competition. Court Vernon held on to second ahead of Spencer Pigot, who scored his first podium in only his second Skip Barber National race.
Robert La Rocca, another driver who stayed with the lead pack the entire race and ran as high as second came in fourth. Isaac Lyons, having the best weekend of his short formula car career, set a new track lap record of 1:33.951 sec. on his way to a career best fifth. Vernon's second place was crucial for the points, since leader Connor De Phillippi was shuffled to the back of the lead draft late in the race and could do no better than sixth, ahead of Luis Michael Dörrbecker, Sage Karam, who spun from the lead late, and Al Carter. Dom Bastien, in his first Skip Barber National weekend since Sebring in March rounded out the top ten.
Dennis Trebing picked up his first pole in Skip Barber National competition in the fading daylight of Thursday's impromptu qualifying session. So, three hours after the end of Race 1 and after a thorough safety check (and some race rash repair) by the Skip Barber crew, the Cape Coral, Florida driver led the field to the green for Race 2 at 11 AM (five minutes ahead of schedule).
In a repeat of Race 1, the lead pack contained the bulk of the field, evolved from 15 individual drivers and race cars into one large, grinding, flaring racing monster. First to be spit out by the monster was second in points Court Vernon. The Key Biscayne, Florida driver, hoping to capitalize on his Race 1 momentum, came out on the short end of some contact and found himself in the gravel in Turn 10A, bringing out the only caution of the weekend and losing a lap waiting for a tow. He would eventually finish 15th, erasing the advantage he gained in Race 1 on De Phillippi.
Another driver consumed by the monster was pole sitter Trebing, who was quickly shuffled into the field by a swarm that included De Phillippi, Race 1 winner Sean Rayhall, Spencer Pigot, Robert La Rocca and Sage Karam. De Phillippi led the first lap, Pigot the second, De Phillippi the third... and so it went; several drivers taking their turn as the head but no driver being able to escape the monster itself. The third driver to fall prey to the monster was Spencer Pigot.
The Windermere, Florida driver who started alongside Trebing on the front row led a total of four laps before a last lap attempt to wrest the lead from Karam sent him off into the weeds. He would finish the race in the pits and be credited with 14th. Out front it was Sage Karam besting all comers to pick up his first victory in Skip Barber competition, taking a slim .085 over a game Connor De Phillippi, who solidified his point lead with his 11th podium of the season. Sean Rayhall backed up his earlier win with a third. Ashley Freiberg made up for her misfortune in Race 1 with a fourth, ahead of pole sitter Dennis Trebing.
Luis Michael Dörrbecker came home sixth, with Julian Albarracin in seventh and Felix Serralles in eighth. Robert La Rocca, as high as 2nd late in the race, was another driver shuffled to the back of the pack at the end, finishing 9th while Al Carter rounded out the top ten. Despite his first winless weekend since VIR in April, the second for Connor De Phillippi, combined with Court Vernon's 15th more than made up for Vernon's Race 1 advantage allowing the San Clemente, Calif. driver to extend his lead to 52 points heading into the season finale, the inaugural Skip Barber Festival of Speed, October 8-10 at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, where the BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda headlines a triple header weekend with the Skip Barber Summer Race Series and the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Challenge.
Results, BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda September 25, 2009, Round 11 of 14, BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda Road Atlanta, 12 turn, 2.54 mile road course (Starting position in parentheses) 1. (3) Sean Rayhall, Austell, Ga., 14 laps, 95.060 average MPH 2. (6) Court Vernon, Key Biscayne, Fla., 14 3. (10) Spencer Pigot, Windermere, Fla., 14
4. (2) Robert La Rocca, Delray Beach, Fla., 14 5. (14) Isaac Lyons, Hillsborough, Northern Ireland, 14 6. (1) Connor De Phillippi, San Clemente, Calif., 14 7. (8) Luis Michael Dörrbecker, Mexico, 14 8. (5) Sage Karam, Nazareth, Penn., 14 9. (12) Al Carter, Greenville, Del., 14 10. (15) Dom Bastien, West Palm Beach, Fla., 14 11. (4) Ashley Freiberg, Homer Glen, Ill., 13 12. (13) Kevin Tittle, South Pasadena, Calif., 9 13. (7) Dennis Trebing, Cape Coral, Fla., 7 (contact) 14. (11) Julian Albarracin, Bogota, Colombia, 7 (contact) 15. (9) Felix Serralles, Haines City, Fla., 6 (contact) Race length: 14 laps of 2.54-mile road course for 35.56 miles Time of race: 22 minutes 26.681 seconds Conditions: Dawn Margin of victory: .262 seconds Lap leaders: Connor De Phillippi 1 – 2; Sage Karam, 3 – 4; De Phillippi 5 – 6; Karam 7; De Phillippi 8; Sean Rayhall 9; Karam 10; De Phillippi 11 – 12; Court Vernon 13; Rayhall 14 Cautions: none Fastest qualifier: De Phillippi, 1:34.253 / 97.015 mph Fastest race lap: Isaac Lyons, 1:33.951 / 97.327 mph (track record), lap 7
September 25, 2009, Round 12 of 14, BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda Road Atlanta, 12 turn, 2.54 mile road course (Starting position in parentheses) 1. (4) Sage Karam, Nazareth, Penn., 11 laps, 77.677 average mph 2. (3) Connor De Phillippi, San Clemente, Calif., 11 3. (5) Sean Rayhall, Austell, Ga., 11 4. (11) Ashley Freiberg, Homer Glen, Ill., 11 5. (1) Dennis Trebing, Cape Coral, Fla. 11 6. (10) Luis Michael Dörrbecker, Mexico, 11 7. (9) Julian Albarracin, Bogota, Colombia, 11 8. (14) Felix Serralles, Haines City, Fla., 11 9. (8) Robert La Rocca, Delray Beach, Fla., 11 10. (12) Al Carter, Greenville, Del., 11 11. (15) Dom Bastien, West Palm Beach, Fla. 11 12. (13) Kevin Tittle, South Pasadena, Calif., 11 13. (7) Isaac Lyons, Hillsborough, Northern Ireland, 11 14. (2) Spencer Pigot, Windermere, Fla., 11 15. (6) Court Vernon, Key Biscayne, Fla., 10 Race length: 11 laps of 2.54-mile road course for 27.94 miles Time of race: 21 minutes, 34.903seconds Conditions: Sunny and hot Margin of victory: 0.085 seconds Lap leaders: Connor De Phillippi 1; Spencer Pigot 2; De Phillippi 3; Pigot 4 – 6; Sean Rayhall 7; De Phillippi 8; Rayhall 9; Karam 10 – 11 Cautions: 1 for 2 laps Fastest qualifier: Dennis Trebing 1:34.498 / 96.764 mph Fastest race lap: Ashley Freiberg 1:35.073 / 96.179 mp