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JULY 9, 2001

Long's Title push starts in style

INSIDE F1's Young Driver of the Year, Patrick Long, enjoyed a superb weekend's racing on the full Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit to put himself in the thick of the championship battle in Britain's Slick 50 Formula Ford Zetec Championship.

The 19 year-old Californian excelled on the demanding 2.6-mile circuit - scene of 14 Grands Prix from 1964 to 1985 - to take two pole positions, one victory, a second place and fastest lap. Such a successful weekend sees him bursting from fourth place in the championship to second with just 15 points between himself and leader Robert Dahlgren and 30 points available for victory in every remaining round.

"I love this circuit and I guess that showed," said Long. "Of course every driver's going to enjoy a circuit he wins on but there's a real satisfaction about the full circuit at Brands Hatch. It's one of the most demanding places I've driven - right up there with Spa - and that makes it all the better to run strongly, win and get myself right up there for the title."

Long qualified on pole position for the first race in the double-header event in this year's British Formula Ford championship, a series that is world renowned as the most important proving ground for young talent. Counting among its previous winners the likes of Ayrton Senna, Eddie Irvine and Jenson Button, Long's prestigious seat in the works Van Diemen team has been rewarded this weekend, as did the hard but fair race with his team mate and fellow title contender Richard Goransson in the opening race. Although both young men were gunning for the title as well as race honors, it was a good clean fight between the two that Long relished.

"I think we scuffed a little rubber a couple of times, but it was great racing," enthused Long, who has been racing in Europe since his karting days. "The best corner is Dingle Dell, a right-left flick as you crest a hill, and we were taking some air as we crested the rise pretty well side by side. To go into a corner with a championship rival on the ground takes some trust, but in the air it's something else!"

In the second race grid position was decided be the earlier finishing order, and Long took his second pole of the day by virtue of that first victory. Although he was ultimately bested by championship leader Robert Dahlgren - who raced in the works Van Diemen team last season - the young American again enjoyed a good, strong tussle and remained upbeat.

"I got pole and fastest lap, which have a point each, so Robert only took one point off me in that race. It's never good to finish second of course, especially when you're running so well, but again it was clean and close and you've got to look at the bigger game. To go to a circuit like Brands and race well is the kind of confidence booster you need when you're aiming for the championship."

The next round takes place at Donington Park on July 21-22, scene of Ayrton Senna's mesmeric lap in the Grand Prix of 1993 and another of Long's favorite circuits, just the place he wants to be as he gears up for a fraught summer of racing.

"The calendar's being kind to me right now," said Long. Next weekend we've got a weekend off as British motor sport closes down and we all go watch the Grand Prix. When we get to go racing again it's at Donington. It's a totally different challenge to Brands, but one I've grown fond of and hopefully will be able to get myself up to the front of the championship order."