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Qualifying in Balmy Florida
By Doyle Potenteau
The Okanagan Saturday

Think it was balmy in Kelowna yesterday? Mike Richardson doesn't think so. Richardson was in Tampa, Fla., Friday, sweating off pounds under 28 degrees Celsius. Today, he'll be in the same, hot, humid boat. Make that car. The Kelowna resident qualified 19th out of 27 in early qualifying for today's Barber-Dodge Series 2003 season-opening race. Richardson posted a time of one minute 16.485 seconds on the wide, twisty street circuit in St. Petersburg. The first 12 qualifiers were separated by one second. Richardson, entering his second Barber-Dodge season, finished 1.444 seconds behind the leader - or about the time it takes a person to blink three times in a row. "I'm pretty happy with the result," Richardson told the Okanagan Saturday from Florida. "I definitely have room to maneuver my way up. I can honestly say I'm doing a lot better than last year. "All the extra (cardiovascular) training and the extra seat-time and testing I've done since (September) are beginning to help. They're keeping me more focused on driving instead of getting fatigued." Still, Richardson found it hard to go from 4 degrees on Wednesday to the upper 20s. "It's really humid out here," he said. "And when I finished practice (Friday), I came out of the car literally dripping with sweat. It's hot out here."

Taking Friday's provisional pole was another B.C. resident, Josh Beaulieu of Langley. He traversed the 1.806-mile street circuit in 1:14.972 seconds for an average of 86.720 miles per hour. Qualifying second was Dan Di Leo of Markham, Ont., who held the top spot during most of Friday's session, with a time of 1:15.041 and speed of 86.641. "Both those guys had strong finishes last year, so it's not surprising they're both doing well," said Richardson. "But it's sorta funny that way. Canada is always known for producing good hockey players. But we're also developing some good racers as well, which is being overlooked." "If you look at this series or other series, like Toyota-Atlantic or CART, you can easily find a good mix of Canadians near the top." Today, qualifying starts at 6 a.m. PST, followed by the green flag dropping on the 40-minute timed race six hours later at 12:45 p.m. Normally, Barber-Dodge races have a second full day of qualifying on Saturday, with racing on Sunday. Richardson doesn't mind the change though, especially with St. Petersburg, a new stop on the tour. "It's a really nice street circuit," said Richardson. "It's fast and has a couple of little fast kinks in it. It's also very smooth for a street course, and is wider than most of the other street circuits, like Vancouver or Toronto, which are pretty narrow. "There are a lot of spots to pass, which should make for a good race. I'm hoping to get out fast, get past the traffic and get a top-10 finish. My coaches say this is the best they've ever seen me drive. "We were going through the (data) and they were telling me 'You only have to improve one-tenth of a second here, two-tenths here.' From last year, that's a big improvement from having big dips in the (data). And with the race (today), I won't have an extra night to get nervous and worry about it. "With how I qualified, I should be able to carry some momentum into the race." Beaulieu, excited after earning his first-ever pole position, is also hoping to carry some momentum. "I love this circuit," said Beaulieu. "Its probably one of the best street circuits I've ever driven. And I don't intend to lose the lead from here on out. We got the set-up just right for today, and the dowco.com car was fast when it counted at the end of the session." Di Leo was disappointed not to convert his lead during most of the session into a provisional pole. "This track has so many good passing zones that qualifying up front isn't going to be as important as it is on some of the other street circuits we visit," said Di Leo. "But it's still good to be close to the front, and I'm looking forward to taking the pole back tomorrow morning." The Barber-Dodge Series is the entry series into CART. Drivers use identically prepared single-seat open wheel Reynard-Dodge racecars.