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Bobby Wilson Makes Milwaukee Look Easy
June 01, 2008

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June 1, 2008 – Just looking at the front row for the start of the Firestone Indy Lights race at The Milwaukee Mile track in West Allis, Wisconsin, was enough to tell one that there could well be a surprise winner – unless Jeff Simmons was going to win. And if Jeff had won that would not have been a surprise. But he didn’t!

On the pole was rookie Pablo Donoso from Chile. He was driving for Team Moore Racing. His highest starting position in the 5 previous races had been 10th. But there he was on the pole non-the-less. As for the track being a one mile oval, that was not an issue for him.

In 2007, Pablo drove in the USAC Silver Crown Series for A. J. Foyt Racing. And he was also in that series in 2006. Before that, he raced road courses like the Star Mazda Series and Formula Renault in Argentina. And never mind that his best finish in this season’s five races had been 12th – what might you expect from poor starting positions with this year’s talent?

But you had to say that Donoso on the pole was a surprise. So was the driver sitting next to him on the front row.

The second fastest qualifier was Oconomowoc, Wisconsin’s own Bobby Wilson. What was he doing on the front row for an oval track race? Bobby is known as a road racer, not an oval racer, although he is not a rookie. This is his fourth year in the Indy Pro/Light Series. On the road courses, he had been on the pole twice and the front row six times. But his best oval qualifying in four seasons had been 4th at Homestead in 2007.

As for finishes, Bobby had won Watkins Glen in 2006 and the IMS road course race in 2007. His four podium finishes had all been on road/street courses. His highest oval finish in those four years had been 6th at Homestead in 2007.

Bobby had not been having the greatest of seasons this year – not up to Team E expectations anyway.

Penalties resulting in poor finishes, and several accidents, stemming from some over enthusiasm, over-shadowed a very "quick out of the box" effort by this "rookie" team. When the team arrived at Kansas, a month into the season, and in 21st position in the points, things started to change. Starting from 21st, due to a washed out qualifying, Bobby drove a very smart race to finish 9th. Then it was on to the Brickyard at Indianapolis for the Freedom 100, and after qualifying 12th he drove one of the best drives of the day to finish 6th, and set a new track record of 191.412 mph.

Team E was founded during the past off-season by Florida businessman Neil Enerson. Enerson’s son was in karting and Neil hired Bobby Wilson, who was/is a karting champion and off-season instructor [Ocala Gran Prix racing school] as a driving coach for him. Having gotten acquainted with Bobby [who by then was living in Florida] he was impressed.

Bobby’s racing achievements included the Stars of Karting championship in 2003 and then in 2004 winning the Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 Zetec Series championship. In the latter, he nailed 4 wins and 13 top five finishes. The following year, 2005, Bobby drove the last four races at the IRL Pro/Lights level for Brian Stewart Racing.

By 2007, Wilson, a college graduate with an engineering degree, was once again driving for BSR, after driving in 2006 for Michael Crawford Motorsports and later Ken Hardley Racing. With wins at Watkins Glen in 2006 and the Indianapolis road course in 2007, Bobby’s 7 top six finishes continued to add to his credentials.

When Neil, who owns a natural gas utility company, attended some Pro/Lights races last year he caught the bug and decided to form his own team. And for his driver, he wanted Bobby Wilson. Enerson’s next task was to put together the best team, with the best equipment possible.

With Bobby’s help, they sought a veteran Team Manager capable of handling such a large task in such a short time, and acquired Doug Hoy with his years of experience. They also acquired Chief Mechanic Dave Metcalf and Mechanic Harv Sweezie. These three were instrumental in Wade Cunningham’s Series championship in 2005 as well as the BSR’s two Team championships and car No. 1 privilege for the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

Also joining the new Odessa, Florida, based Team E [Team Enerson Racing LLC] was veteran Engineer Dave Conti from AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing. Conti’s experience also includes being an engine builder and team owner [Conti Racing].

Rookie mechanic, Nick Weitekamp, also joined the team, having worked with BRS for a few races in 2007 on Bobby’s car.

Like any new team, Team E has its growing pains, too. The question was, however, how much had they grown in 5 races? Clearly enough to qualify on the front row for the 6th race, even if it was an oval. The race would answer the rest of that question.

Behind Donoso on the grid and third fastest was Jeff Simmons – Pablo’s teammate! In the field of 21 cars if there was anyone who you might have said owned The Milwaukee Mile it would have been Simmons. And if he didn’t own it he sure understood that track better than any of the other drivers. Jeff also understood the Indy Pro/Light cars better than any of the other drivers [well, maybe Arie Luyendyk Jr., not to slight him, had as good an understanding.] Simmons also knows how to move through traffic on The Milwaukee Mile.

Simmons had run the IRL Pro Series in 2003 – 2006 and was now in his 5th season. In qualifying, Jeff had recorded 3 poles, 7 front rows, and 10 second rows. Those included both ovals and road courses, as did his finishes. 7 wins and 18 podium finishes on both types of courses.

Even more important for the Milwaukee event, Jeff had raced there three times. In 2005, in the Pro/Lights Series, he qualified 7th and finished 1st. Wade Cunningham had led most laps in that race until Simmons had set him up and put a pass on him with only 3 laps to go – and won the race.

In 2006, Jeff raced in 12 IndyCar Series races and had his highest qualifying at Milwaukee, 6th, and his third highest finish, 9th. In 2007, he was again in the IndyCar Series with eleven starts. Milwaukee was one of his five top 10 finishes.

You just knew that Jeff Simmons was going to be a challenger in this race.

Next to Simmons on the second row was James Davison from Australia, driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. There was no reason not to expect James to be fast in the race. He had qualified 2nd at the IMS Freedom 100. You just knew that his Sam Schmidt car was going to be quick in the race.

With that, the green flag dropped and the 100-lap race was on with its field of 21 drivers standing on it. In spite of all of the talented and aggressive drivers, including 10 rookies, Roger Bailey has gotten the word through to them that crashing into each other on starts, or later in the race, is not acceptable! The Firestone Indy Lights races have been remarkably clean races other than single car accidents.

The start was clean. Donoso led the field into Turn 1 followed by Wilson, Simmons and Davison in that order for the first 4 cars. They stayed in that order completing the first lap. On lap 2 the yellow came out when Ana Beatriz contacted the wall in Turn 4. When the track went green on lap 8 Davison jumped past Jeff Simmons and grabbed 3rd place. At the same time 6th place Raphael Matos was able to trade places with 5th place Arie Luyendyk Jr.

The order in the front stayed in that order until lap 13. By that time, Bobby Wilson had felt out his car and the track, as well as the competition. And he had made whatever adjustments he felt necessary and was ready to take over the show.

While Pablo Donoso was staying in the middle of the straight Bobby, who was in his draft, simply pulled out on the high side. As they went into the next turn Pablo dropped down to take the shortest line. That didn’t phase Bobby and he still just effortlessly cruised past Donoso. A lap later Bobby had a 0.151 second lead and four laps after that he had stretched it out to 2.335 seconds. Wilson decided it was going to be his race – for himself, for his team and for all of his Oconomowoc family and friends who had come over for the race.

On lap 20 the track went yellow again when Mark Olson also whacked the wall in Turn 4. That clean up took until lap 30 before the light went green again. At that point, Jeff Simmons made his first move in the race after having set-up Davison who was still in 3rd place. Jeff just slid out of the draft and past James and took over 3rd for himself. However, that was not where Jeff wanted to stay. On the next lap, 31, he wanted in be in 2nd and moved past his teammate Pablo Donoso and claimed 2nd.

While all of this was going on Raphael Matos, AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing, had been continuing working his way up closer to the front and put the same moves on Davison, on lap 31, and Donoso, on lap 32, that Simmons had. The running order was now Wilson in 1st, Simmons in 2nd, and Matos in 3rd.

By lap 33 Simmons decided he would test Bobby Wilson and see how fast the two of them really were. On lap 34 Bobby let Jeff know. Wilson ripped off what would be the fastest lap of the race and asked Simmons if he could also turn a 141.133 mph lap. Simmons couldn’t, or at least didn’t.

While Simmons knew the track well, Bobby was no rookie to The Milwaukee Mile. He had finished in the top 5 there twice in the Pro Series. And on this day Bobby was showing that he could pretty much run where he wanted to. Bobby just cruised out of traffic and in traffic.

After lap 29, the track stayed green for the rest of the race and the remaining 19 cars left were able to race without interruption and put on their great show.

As the race went on Simmons tried to test Wilson from time to time, to keep the pressure on and to make his plan for the last few laps of the race. He remembered how Wade Cunningham had led the race in 2005 and how he had been able to get past Wade at the end. Wade and Bobby had been teammates in the 2004 Formula Ford 2000 Series and in 2005 on Brian Stewart Racing. If Jeff had gotten by Cunningham on the Milwaukee oval then why not Wilson also?

The pass Simmons had made on Cunningham in 2005 had been on lap 97. In the lead, Wade was coming up on lap traffic and Jeff used that opportunity to close up the gap and come right up on his gear box. And then, coming out of Turn 4 he was able to drop down and get a run on Cunningham, slip by him, take the lead and keep it to the finish line.

In this race on lap 98 as Bobby Wilson came onto the straight, he could see lap cars ahead. And Simmons started closing the gap behind him. By lap 99 Bobby was getting closer to Logan Gomez’s car in front of him and Jeff closer to him from behind.

When the white flag waved for the last lap those three cars were starting to look like a sandwich being put together and Bobby the meat in the center. Jeff was only 0.472 second behind him.

But Wilson liked the air he was in on Logan’s line and decided that he was not going to close and try to pass him. And he believed he could do that without Simmons getting past.

When they came out of Turn 4 and headed for the finish line Simmons was right behind Wilson with only a 3-4 foot gap.

As they approached the finish line Simmons pulled out and dropped down to try a pass, but it was too late. Wilson had just the extra speed he needed. As Bobby crossed the finish line, he was exactly one car length, 0.0893 seconds, ahead of Jeff. It was all about timing.

Bobby Wilson was finally an oval track winner and Team E had won their first Firestone Indy Lights race with a beautiful blue, Team E Patriot Bank, number 17 car.

Commenting after the race Bobby said: “I felt really good in the car, basically put it on cruise control. Just having a good car at the track is the difference between winning and losing. Just have to be smart in traffic and not force the issue, not get yourself into the situation where you’re crossing the dirty air, then it gets loose, you catch it and make mistakes. I tried to hang back and not make mistakes.”

And regarding Jeff’s final challenge: “So it was just timing the laps and timing the time intervals between Jeff and I….I knew there was one [lap] to go. Down the backstretch, I looked in my mirrors. I know how hard it is to pass here. It was just timing. I was not going to force the issue [with the car directly ahead of him] on I think it was Logan in front of me……I wasn’t really worried. I was just looking ahead. Looking up at the flags, checked my mirrors. He wasn’t really there.”

After the race Simmons remarked: “I was just trying to chase down Bobby. He was strong all weekend. I think he led the first two practice sessions, qualified second. Topped the charts all weekend. It was his weekend. We pushed him hard, made him earn it, came up a car length short at the end.”

The finish had all of the drama you would expect at an IRL race.

With his win at The Milwaukee Mile, Bobby Wilson tied the Series record held by Wade Cunningham for a win in 3 consecutive seasons. And Bobby Wilson showed that he is more that just a road racer.

As for Team E, Bobby’s performance showed how far up the learning curve the team has already come this season. They all have a lot to be proud of.

Raphael Matos was the other podium finisher. Andrew Prendeville came in 4th, J.R. Hildebrand 5th , James Davison 6th [his highest finish] and pole sitter Pablo Donoso finished 7th [his highest finish].

Wilson was the 5th different race winner in the six races to date. And the points keep moving around.

In the Series season standings, Richard Antinucci now has a 1-point lead over Dillon Battistini and 15 points ahead of J. R. Hildebrand. Following these three, in order, are Raphael Matos, Arie Luyendyk Jr., Jeff Simmons and Bobby Wilson.

In three weeks it will be another small track oval, the high banked Iowa Speedway. Can Bobby Wilson and Team E repeat or perhaps will we have yet another different driver take the checkered flag?

Find out on Saturday, June 21 by following the live race on the IRL web site and/or watching the delayed TV coverage Thursday, June 26 on ESPN2.

You can learn more about Team E on their site: www.teameracing.com And on the IRL site: www.indycar.com/indylights/ Go to Drivers/Teams, then to Bobby Wilson and click Team E. [You will also find an array of info about Bobby by clicking on him – Bio, Career, Stats, News and Photos]

[fromthetrack.com would like to express a special thanks to Team E’s Harv Sweezie.]