Star Mazda drivers going places
|Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Michael McDowell does donuts after winning ARCA race
After 17 years as one of the premier open-wheel driver development series in North America, the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear can lay claim to a long and distinguished list of alumni, including the America’s most recent F1 driver, Scott Speed, rising Champ Car star Graham Rahal and IRL standout Marco Andretti, among numerous others. And a number of recent graduates are hard on the gas, accelerating toward high-profile careers in various forms of racing.
Drivers Climbing the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development Ladder
Mazda is the first major auto manufacturer to create a clearly-defined program the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development Ladder, that reaches all the way from karting to the Champ Car World Series.
At the top of the ladder, 2005 Star Mazda champion Raphael Matos graduated to the Champ Car Atlantic series in 2006 and won the championship in 2007 driving for Sierra Sierra/ProWorks (which got its start back in 2000-2001 as a Star Mazda team). His prize of a $2 million sponsorship provided by Champ Car means he will be moving up to open wheel racing’s major leagues in 2008.
One rung below that, 2007 Star Mazda champion Dane Cameron, who won a fully-sponsored MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development Ladder ride in the 2008 Atlantic series, has signed to replace Matos on the Sierra Sierra team and came away from his first Atlantic test impressed with both the team and car.
“The two things that impressed me the most were how welcome the entire Sierra Sierra/ProWorks team made me feel… and how powerful the brakes on the Atlantic car are,” said the 19 year-old native of Sonoma, California. “The Atlantic car is very different from the Star Mazda car, bigger, more powerful, different tires and more things you can adjust to make it faster, but I didn’t feel at all intimidated and was able to get up to speed very quickly because of the experience I gained racing in Star Mazda. The competition next year will be intense, but I’m confident that we’ll be in the hunt for both Rookie of the Year and the championship.”
Moving up to the Star Mazda Championship in 2008 – with sponsorship from the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development Ladder will be Joel Miller, the 19-year-old racer from Hesperia, California, who scored five wins and finished on the podium in all 14 of the 2007 BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda Series races. He has already tested with one top team, Andersen Racing, is scheduled to test with several others in coming weeks and hopes to decide which team he will drive for by early December.
“The most noticeable differences between the Star Mazda race car and the Skip Barber car I raced last season is the braking power, the level of aerodynamic grip and the power of the rotary engine -- you can really move the Star Mazda car around just using the accelerator,” says Miller. “Andersen Racing was kind enough to give me a test before I went over to Europe to compete in the Team USA Scholarship event and it was a tremendous help. We had some mechanical issues in the early part of the test, but the team was very professional and we worked through them – which was a really useful experience – and I was right on the pace by the end of the day. I think the Star Mazda Championship is the ideal next step up the ladder for me and I’m really looking forward to the 2008 season.”
Star Mazda Graduates in NASCAR
Such is the quality of education provided by the Star Mazda championship that the 2004 champion, Michael McDowell, after racing both Champ Cars and Daytona Prototypes, has moved over to NASCAR. In 2007, his rookie year in the ARCA RE/MAX series, he scored nine pole positions, led a series-high 822 laps, scored fifteen top-10 finishes and won four races on his way to a 2nd-place finish in the championship. He has signed to drive for Michael Waltrip Racing in the 2008 Sprint Cup, and has been gaining experience with end-of-season drives in both the Craftsman Truck and Busch Series (where he finished 20th and 14th in his first two races, at Texas and Phoenix).
Other Star Mazda graduates making their mark in NASCAR include Brad Coleman who ran the series at age 16 in 2004, then made history as a member of the first team in the Rolex 24 at Daytona comprised entirely of 16 year-old drivers, including Adrian Carrio (the 2005 Star Mazda champion now racing in the Atlantic Series) and Colin Braun ( ). Coleman then moved up to the ARCA RE/MAX series in 2006, ran the NASCAR Busch Series with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2007 (making his debut as a Busch driver in the same week he graduated from high school). He will drive for Brewco Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (formerly the Busch Series) in 2008 and has signed a development deal with Hall of Fame Racing and hopes to run several Sprint Cup races toward the end of the season.
And Colin Braun, a Star Mazda driver in 2004 - 2005, and member of that history-making team of 16 year-old endurance racers, moved up to become one of the top young driver on the Grand-Am Rolex Daytona Prototype Series. In 2007 he signed a long-term deal with Roush Fenway Racing and has been honing his skills in ARCA RE/MAX, Craftsman Truck and Busch Series races.
Other Feet on the Ladder
Cameron, Matos and McDowell aren’t the only Star Mazda Championship graduates taking another step up the ladder this year. A number of drivers are taking advantage of career opportunities resulting from their performance in the 2007 Star Mazda Championship.
In partnership with Star Mazda sponsor Performance Friction, Walker Racing (which runs both Team Australia in the Champ Car World Series and a Champ Car Atlantic team) tested Star Mazda drivers Ron White and Alex Ardoin at Putnam Park Road Course in Mount Meridian, Indiana in late September. And James Davison recently bested four other hot young drivers – including an A1GP pole winner and the IMSA Lites champion -- in a two-day Indy Pro Series test at Sebring International Raceway with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Jonathan Goring and Jonny Baker, Andersen Racing's two full-time Star Mazda drivers this year, also both received Indy Pro Series tests as part of the team's incentive program.
And even as this year’s rising stars begin to shine in new directions, the light from a new set of stars is beginning to illuminate the 2008 Mazda Motorsports Ladder. Two standouts from the 2007 Snap-On Stars of Karting Presented by the Indy Racing League, Tyler Dueck and Scott Jenkins (who won the overall Stars of Karting championship) have both been awarded tests later this year with a top Star Mazda Championship team.
Another karting prodigy, Michael Self, a 16 year-old from Utah who is scheduled to compete in the 2008 Skip Barber Regional Series, got a taste of what could very well be his 2009 or 2010 race car when he took advantage of a free Pro Formula Mazda test with 2006 Star Mazda champions World Speed Motorsports. He was chosen for the Skip Barber scholarship award and World Speed test by a panel of judges, including Champ Car driver Justin Wilson who witnessed his amazing display of driving at the 2007 Champ Car ROTAX Grand Nationals. "This was a great test day overall, and I couldn't be more pleased. World Speed Motorsports is an amazing group to work with," said Self.
From the Skip Barber Regional Series, drivers like Self have a chance to move on to the BF Goodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda, then climb the ladder to the Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear and the Cooper Tires Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. The Atlantic champion is presented with two million dollars from the Champ Car World Series towards a Champ Car ride which completes the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development Ladder from Karting into Champ Cars.
Star Mazda Championship Teams on the Move
The number of racing teams that own their own test track is very small, and includes such major Motorsports organizations as Ferrari, Honda and Toyota. That elite group has been joined by Andersen Racing, which fields teams in the Star Mazda Championship, FF2000 and the Indy Pro Series.
The 18-acre facility, which includes a 1-mile road course, is located at 10101 U.S. Highway 41 North in Palmetto, Florida, just a 15-minute drive from St. Petersburg and Sarasota. Re-named Andersen RacePark to reflect its new ownership, the location allows testing can be conducted virtually year-round in the Florida sunshine. The track is already a favorite of kart racers, other teams in various series that wish to conduct private test sessions, and amateurs participating in formula car "arrive-and-drive" programs.
"We're excited about this acquisition, as it fits our team's vision perfectly," he said. "Young karters at our facility will be exposed to our three race teams, which will give them access to our personnel in an almost campus atmosphere," says Anderson Racing co-owner Dan Anderson. "On the other side of the coin, our people will be able to observe first-hand karting talent at Andersen RacePark for possible future driver openings. We feel Andersen RacePark will benefit everyone."
Also, just as some of the Star Mazda Championship drivers are climbing the ladder, some Star Mazda teams are moving on to other forms of racing. In previous years, the Atlantic championship-winning Sierra Sierra team started in Star Mazda, as did B-K Motorsports, the team currently fielding the Mazda-powered American Le Mans series LMP2 prototype. For 2008, Hickham Motorsports, which fielded the father/son team of Steve Hickham Jr. and Steve Hickham Sr. (the Masters Series champion), will expand their team in a new direction, retaining at least one of their Star Mazda cars but also fielding a Mazda RX-8 endurance racing effort beginning with the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.
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