Mandarino wins, Cameron champion
Road Atlanta, GA – After a heated battle in the second half of the race that saw the front-running drivers swapping places several times per lap, it was ultimately Vancouver’s Lorenzo Mandarino who scored his second win of the season in Round Eleven of the 2007 Star Mazda Championship driving the #15 Team G.FRO/Newway Forming Mazda. And it was Californian Dane Cameron, struggling all weekend with a car that was a rocket in the turns but slow down the straights – who did what he had to do, finishing 8th in the #19 JDC Motorsports/Finlay Motorsports Mazda and clinching the championship… the first rookie to do so in the 17-year history of the Star Mazda Championship.
“Boy, I really needed this one,” said Mandarino, who has had an up-and-down season of wins and podiums mixed with 18th and 19th- place finishes. “We qualified second, but the weather made the race a gamble for us. It rained in the morning, and it was mostly dry by race time though there were some clouds around, so choosing to go with the dry setup and dry tires was a calculated risk. The G.FRO team gave me a great car for the race and gave me some really good coaching over the radio and helped me make correct decisions about how to run the race. This is their win as much as mine and is a big step forward toward my plans for 2008, which I hope to finalize soon.”
The 45-minute race began with a bang, literally. A four-car melee on the first lap brought out a full-course yellow for several laps, but when racing resumed, it was Australian driver James Davison, the pole-sitter and winner of Round Ten at Mosport, who motored away to a 1.5 second lead in his #7 Velocity Motorsports / Easternats Mazda. He dominated the first half of the race, but began losing ground to the hungry duo battling behind him in 2nd and 3rd-place. Eventual race winner Lorenzo Mandarino was keeping one on the road and one eye on his mirrors as Alex Ardoin of Lafayette, Louisiana in the #51 Mundill Racing / Oral and Facial Surgery Center Mazda was flinging his car into the turns, using every inch of the track – and then some – trying to get past.
On lap 14, Saint-Bruno, Quebec Racer Devin Cunningham inserted himself into the battle, moving the #33 AIM Autosport/Discovery Channel Mazda into third… then back into fourth… then back into third again. The battle between Cunningham and Ardoin was easily the competitive highlight of the race. And all the while, points leader Dane Cameron was soldiering around in 8th, getting the job done, but with frustration radiating from the cockpit like a beacon.
Everything changed, for the front-runners anyway, on lap 20 when Mark Olson, trying to be gentlemanly about getting out of the way while being passed by the front-runners, slid off the track and put his #53 Mundill Racing / Vectren Source Mazda hard into the tire wall. This brought out yet another full-course yellow and bunched up the field.
During the mad scramble of the resulting re-start two laps later that had veteran race observers biting their nails, Mandarino moved into the lead with a daring side-by-side pass through the first turn, and by the time the field came back around to the start/finish line, Davison found himself shuffled back to 5th. The final bit of drama in the race came courtesy of Dallas, Texas driver Russell Walker who tangled wheels in the middle of a group of cars and flipped his #28 JWR Racing/Pavecon Mazda hard into the red Georgia clay. He was lucky to walk away unscathed, though a TV close-up of him standing behind the barrier at the side of the track required minimal lip-reading skills to discern his feelings about the situation.
With just a few minutes left in the race and a serious mess to clean up, officials brought out the checkered flag. Ultimately, the finishing order was Mandarino, Cunningham and Ardoin on the podium, with Jonathan Goring in the #14 Andersen Racing / Skip Barber Racing Mazda and pole-sitter/early race leader Davison rounding out the top-5.
Finishing first in the Master Class for Star Mazda Championship drivers aged between 30 and 44 was Richard Zober of Newtown, PA in the Comprent Motorsports / Zober Industries Mazda, his fourth class win of the year. In the Expert Class for drivers over 45, the winner was Gerry Kraut, driver of the #55 JDC Motorsports/Dougherty & Co. Mazda. Karut has won his class four times in 2007.
For Dane Cameron, all thoughts of how he might have wished the race had gone differently were swept away in the realization that he had indeed won the 2007 Star Mazda Championship, and the Mazda-sponsored full-season drive in the 2008 Cooper Tires Champ Car Atlantic Series Powered by Mazda that comes with it. Not to mention the $100,000 in cash, $10,000 for being the top Rookie… and a brand-new Mazda RX-8 sports car.
“When we came into this series at the start of the year, we knew that the biggest thing would be consistency,” said the jubilant 18 year-old native of Somona, California. “So that’s what we focused on. The JDC team is so good that along the way we managed to win three races, start from the pole five times and finish on the podium four times, so however I might wish this race had gone better for us, it was a great season and we accomplished the mission of winning the championship. I’m grateful to the team, my father, who is also the engineer on my car, and my sponsors, especially Rob Finlay who made me part of the Finlay Motorsports driver development program. And to Lynx Racing and the others who have made this possible. And of course to Mazda and their ‘motorsports ladder’ program that is making it possible for me to live out my life-long dream of a career in racing. The ladder system is critical for the health and development of open-wheel racing in this country, and Mazda deserves a lot of credit for being the first automaker to put together a program that reaches all the way from karting to Champ Car.”
The season finale of the 12-race 2007 Star Mazda Championship takes place at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Northern California October 19 – 20. Star Mazda races are broadcast on the SPEED Channel, with the Road Atlanta event scheduled to air on Saturday, October 13 at 12 noon ET. To confirm this air time and find out when future Star Mazda races will air, log on to www.speedtv.com/programs.