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Star Mazda season review

Star Mazda
Monday, November 05, 2007

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Champion Dane Cameron

2007 was another banner year for the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. The deep talent pool included drivers from four continents and seven countries, with eight different winners in twelve races and just four points separating the 4th and 8th-place finishers in the championship. Records were set, including the first-ever back-to-back podium finishes by a female driver in the series. And, claiming the champion’s share of a prize fund approaching $1.5 million, another rising star took his next step up the Mazda Motorsports Ladder.

The Champion

Dane Cameron, a 19-year-old series rookie from Sonoma, CA, won the 2007 Star Mazda Championship – becoming only the second rookie champion in the 17-year history of the series (Ian Lacy won in his first season, in 1998). Driving the #19 JDC Motorsports/Finlay Motorsports Mazda, he clinched the championship in Round Eleven at Road Atlanta on his way to a record of three wins, six pole positions, and seven top-5 finishes, including five podiums. Cameron will follow the path established by 2005 champion Raphael Matos and 2006 winner Adrian Carrio, moving up the Mazda Motorsports Ladder to a full-season drive in the Cooper Tires Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.

The Winners

In addition to Cameron’s three victories (Houston, VIR and Toronto), seven other drivers also stood on the top step of the podium in 2007. Ron White of Santa Clara, California (#69 Wunder-Bar Mazda) drove for three teams during the season, starting out with Team G.FRO, moving to Maxwell Racing mid-season and fielding his own car for the last two races. He scored back-to-back wins for at Road America and Trois Rivières, finishing third in the championship. Also scoring two wins (Salt Lake City and Road Atlanta) was Burnaby, B.C. driver Lorenzo Mandarino. He finished 8th in the championship driving the #15 Team G.FRO/Newway Forming Mazda.

Single-race winners included Australian racer James Davison, who finished 2nd in the championship. He won at Mosport in the #7 Velocity Motorsports/Easternats Mazda. Jonathan Goring of Norfolk, CT finished 5th in the championship and won at Cleveland in the #14 Andersen Racing/Skip Barber Racing Mazda. Sixth in the championship, and winning his first race of the season in the final round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca driving the #51 Mundill/Oral and Facial Surgery Center Mazda was Lafayette, Louisiana native Alex Ardoin.

Saint-Bruno, Quebec’s Devin Cunningham won the 2006 Discovery Channel ‘Star Racer’ competition to find Canada’s next open-wheel racing star, and won in the rain at Portland in the #33 AIM Autosport/Discovery Channel Mazda. He finished 7th in the championship. Rounding out the list of 2007 race winners was Toronto’s Marco Di Leo; he qualified on the front row for more than half of the races, won the season-opener at Sebring and finished 9th in the championship driving the #21 Maxwell Racing/Nugget Mazda.

While it is not known at this point how many of these drivers will return for another season of Star Mazda Championship racing in 2008, those who do and finished in the top-10 will get to use that number on their car. If the driver moves on to another series, the team that fielded the car will retain the number.

Expert and Masters Series

The Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear is one of the only open-wheel racing series in the world to feature a championship-within-a-championship for more mature drivers in whom the competitive fire still burns brightly. The Expert Series, for drivers aged 30 to 44, was won by Dallas, Texas racer Dan Tomlin III. Driving the #56 Team Tomlin Mazda, he scored three class wins, including the season finale at Mazda Raceway (where his father, Dan Tomlin Jr., won the Master class event), and four class top-3 finishes. The Master Series for driver 45 and older, was won by Steve Hickham of Corpus Christi, Texas. Racing the #17 Maxwell Racing/HB Turbo Mazda, he complied a record of five class wins and six top-3 class finishes.

The Prizes

With the 2007 prizes approaching $1.5 million, Cameron claimed the lion’s share; including a Mazda-sponsored 2008 season in the Cooper Tires Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. Cameron has elected to race with the 2007 championship-winning Sierra Sierra/ProWorks team. He also collected $100,000 and a new Mazda RX-8 for winning the championship and $10,000 for winning Rookie of the Year. The rest of the $500,000 in cash prizes was paid deep into the field, from $70,000 for 2nd-place to $10,000 for 15th.

The season-ending banquet, ably hosted by SPEED Channel commentators Brian Till and Calvin Fish, included not only championship prizes for the top-15 drivers, but also a number of other awards:

The Team Championship for the Star Mazda team scoring the most points based on finishes throughout the season by their top two cars: JDC Motorsports ($10,000)

Racing for Kids Award for the driver making visits to children’s hospitals and scoring the most points at designated Racing for Kids events: Alex Ardoin ($1,000 and $1,000 donated to the hospital of his choice)

Quartermaster Clutch Performer Award for the driver gaining the most positions in the championship during the final six races of the year: Dan Tomlin III ($5,000 and trophy)

BBS Hard Charger Award for the driver who gained the most places from start to finish in every race of the year: Ron White (Custom-made coffee table and set of BBS road wheels)

VP Fuel Most Improved Driver Award, a consensus award among all series participants for the individual who has shown the most progress as a driver from the beginning to the end of the season: Alex Ardoin ($5,000 and trophy)

Performance Friction Crew Member of the Year Award, a consensus award for the most valuable member of a particular team who’s efforts have also benefited other teams and the series: Kate Gundlach of John Walko Racing ($1,500)

President’s Cup / The Spirit of Star Mazda, a consensus award for the person who best typifies the qualities and character that represent the Star Mazda Championship: Dan Tomlin Jr. ($2,500)

Records and Notable Achievements

Natacha Gachnang of St. Gingolph, Switzerland, set a series record for female racers with back-to-back podium finishes driving the #35 AIM Autosport Mazda. Gachnang only ran seven of twelve races, but still finished 15th in the championship.

Nick Haye, the Hollywood, California-based driver of the #37 JDC Motorsports/ Quantum Sphere Mazda, had an up-and-down season that included two 15th-place finishes, but also two podiums, two top-5s and five top-10s. He finished 4th in the championship and is planning a return to the Star Mazda Championship in 2008 with his eye on the big prize.

At Trois Rivières, a street circuit barely two race cars wide in most places, Dallas, Texas driver Russell Walker, put on an aggressive and substantial display of car control in the #29 Pavecon/John Walko Racing Mazda. He turned only one lap in qualifying, started last and was still able to slice and dice his way up through the field to finish 4th. And in the same race, Quebec newcomer Yannick Hofman, driving his first-ever Star Mazda race after two seasons in Formula BMW, showed he will be a force to be reckoned with when he joins the series full-time next season after qualifying 8th on the starting grid and finishing 5th in his #00 Jig-A-Loo/Andersen Racing Mazda.

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