Finale win confirms Rookie of the Year, pointscore 'podium'!
Daniel capped off a great 'wings and slicks' debut season with a clear-cut win in the last race of the series. (Janice Eakin photo)
Daniel Erickson took another step towards achieving his Formula 1 ambition by winning the 14th and final round of the F2000 Championship Series at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course today.
Daniel was never headed after he took the lead at the first corner from pole position holder and 2010 champion Victor Carbone. Twenty laps of the 3.9km (2.4-mile) circuit later, the young Sydney driver crossed the finish line just over one second clear of 2007 champion Cole Morgan, with Carbone nearly two seconds further back in third place.
It was Daniel's third race win in the championship, in which he also scored four second places, four pole positions, two qualifying lap records and two fastest race laps. His victory confirmed him as the 2010 Rookie of the Year, his third such award in four racing seasons across two categories in state, national and international competition.
And it secured his pointscore 'podium' with third position overall, an extraordinary achievement considering he:
missed four of the 14 rounds;
had no previous experience racing a 'wings and slicks' openwheel car; and
had never driven at any of the racetracks before.
Daniel's weekend at Mid-Ohio didn't get off to a great start when his car struck mechanical problems in Saturday's penultimate round of the F2000 Championship Series.
After being on the pace in Friday's two practice sessions, he could only post the fifth fastest lap in qualifying on Saturday morning. An incorrect throttle setting and a damaged air filter were robbing his engine of crucial power on the high-speed 3.9km (2.4 mile) circuit. A malfunctioning pits-to-car radio exacerbated the situation.
But despite those handicaps, his quickest qualifying lap was only 0.239sec. off Carbone's pole position time.
The down-on-power engine's effect could be gauged by the difference between Daniel's best times in practice and qualifying. His fastest lap on Saturday was only half a second quicker than on Friday, when the surface was 'green' after overnight rain had washed the residual rubber from the surface.
By contrast, many other drivers qualified a full second and more faster than their best practice times.
"The radio wasn't working properly, so when my first attempt at a quick lap was only in the 25s I came straight into the pits to fix some understeer," he said. "We made an adjustment and I improved my time by 0.6sec., which was better but still well off the pace I'd been hoping for.
"After qualifying, Eric Oseth from Quicksilver Race Engines found that the throttle wasn't opening fully. We were down by about two to three kilowatts, which would have made quite a difference at Mid-Ohio with such a long back straight.
"We also found that the air filter was ripped, which wouldn't have helped."
With those two problems solved in time for the afternoon's race, Daniel was looking forward to mixing it with the leaders in the race - but things went from bad to worse.
The car had been riding too high in qualifying, so it was lowered to what the team estimated would be spot-on. But it turned out to be too low, so the chassis was touching the track under heavy braking. Even so, in the early laps Daniel overtook pole sitter Carbone, although the champion-apparent later admitted that he was driving conservatively to guarantee the title before the final race (which he did).
On lap five, Daniel's car skated off the track at the 180-degree Keyhole corner after bottoming out badly under brakes. He was back to 15th place by the time he rejoined the track, but recovered six positions - two of them courtesy of other drivers spinning off - in the low-riding car before the chequered flag. The severity of the ride height problem could be measured by Daniel's fastest lap, which was a whopping 0.868sec. off the pace of race winner Chris Livengood.
Daniel was extremely disappointed at how the race had panned out, but equally determined to bounce back in Sunday's championship finale.
"I made an okay start, but there was a problem with the car bottoming out badly under brakes. It almost got away from me several times, but I managed to get past Victor - although I think he wasn't taking any risks to make sure he won the championship.
"When the car bottomed out really badly at the Keyhole I couldn't hold it. After I got going again I just tried to score as many points as possible, because I knew that Phil Lombardi (Daniel's closest threat to third place in the championship) was ahead of me on the track, so he was probably ahead of me in the pointscore too."
1. Victor Carbone (BRA) 1min. 24.179sec.
2. Chris Livengood (USA) 1min. 24.201sec.
3. Fabio Orsolon (BRA) 1min. 24.282sec.
5. Daniel Erickson (AUS) 1min. 24.418sec.
Race - 20 laps/77km
1. Chris Livengood (USA) 29min. 24.200sec.
2. Remy Audette (CAN) 29min. 28.955sec.
3. Cole Morgan (USA) 29min. 33.637sec.
9. Daniel Erickson (AUS) 29min. 59.483sec.
The Australian Motor Sport Foundation International Rising Star qualified his Primus Racing Van Diemen in second position for the final race of the series with a best lap of 1min. 24.680sec., 0.226sec. off Carbone's pole time, around the 3.9km Lexington, Ohio racetrack. This was despite a brake bias problem that couldn't be rectified in the pitlane.
Two clean-up stoppages late in the half-hour session denied him the opportunity to try to improve his time.
With next fastest qualifier Fabio Orsolon and fourth position starter Morgan several tenths slower, the race looked to be a shootout between Daniel and Carbone - but it didn't turn out that way.
Daniel outjumped the new champion at the rolling start, which at Mid-Ohio was staged along the kinked back straight instead of the shorter pit straight, and led into the first corner. He drew out a lead of more than a second while Carbone defended his position from Morgan, who eventually overtook the Brazilian after a mid-race pace car period.
Morgan then closed to within less than a second of Daniel, but the gritty Australian withstood the pressure and restored his lead to more than a second again. The gap between the frontrunners fluctuated marginally during the closing laps, but Daniel was always in command and took the chequered flag by 1.034 seconds.
He revealed after the race that he had to cope with a handling problem during the latter stages.
"The car started to develop mid-corner understeer in the slow corners," he said. "From then on I just tried not to make any mistakes, which I didn't.
"To pull a gap on the competition and come away with a win is what racing drivers dream about! This has been a great way to end the series, especially after our troubles on Saturday. It proved that you must never stop trying, no matter how bad things look."
After the race meeting, Daniel thanked everyone involved with his first American racing campaign, particularly Primus Racing owners Jon and Brad Baytos.
"I'd like to thank the crews from various teams who worked on the race cars, most of all Jon and Brad who put this deal together in a very short time," he said. "They've been with me every step of the way, and I can't guess how many small and not-so-small problems they've solved during the championship.
"Without their help there's no way that I would have won Rookie of the Year or finished third in the championship after missing those four rounds.
"I'd also like to thank the Australian Motor Sport Foundation, which came on board for Road America and Mid Ohio, as well as Shaun Garrity and all the Team Erickson members who have bought tickets in our fundraisers.
"Last but not least, thanks to my mum and dad for their encouragement and support, and my uncle Bill for his tireless fundraising work."
1. Victor Carbone (BRA) 1min. 24.454sec.
2. Daniel Erickson (AUS) 1min. 24.680sec.
3. Fabio Orsolon (BRA) 1min. 25.019sec.
Race - 20 laps/77km
1. Daniel Erickson (AUS) 31min. 23.452sec.
2. Cole Morgan (USA) 31min. 24.486sec.
3. Victor Carbone (BRA) 31min. 25.232sec.
FINAL POINTSCORE* (aggregate totals in brackets)
1. Victor Carbone (BR) 535 (563)
2. Cole Morgan (USA) 461 (483)
3. Daniel Erickson (AUS) 395 (395) - contested 10 rounds only
* Best 12 results from 14 rounds, according to F2000 Championship Series rules.
The 3.9km (2.4 mile) Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is used regularly for Indycar and American Le Mans Series racing.
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