A new winner in Star Mazda
Following through on a threat he’s been making for the last half of the season, Louisiana hotshoe Alex Ardoin won his first victory in the season finale Round Twelve of the 2007 Star Mazda Championship at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on October 20.
Ardoin, who’s tail-out, slide-happy driving style reminds onlookers of everyone from Gilles Villeneuve to Tony Stewart on Turkey Night at Irwindale, has served regular notice that he’s becoming a force to be reckoned with, and proved it today with a finely-judged pass of new series champion Dane Cameron in the Turn Two hairpin… a pass that, for all its technical elegance, went uncontested due to the multi-part carnage that ensued almost immediately thereafter.
The first 18 laps of the race, which took the green flag at 12:30 pm ran like a freight train; pole sitter Cameron in the #19 JDC Motorsports/Finlay Motorsports Mazda holding the lead, followed closely by top qualifiers Lorenzo Mandarino, Ardoin, James Davison and, in the early stages, 16 year-old European wild card, F3 racer Max Chilton of Reigate, England, who showed up to race an ALMS car, was told he was too young and decided to take a flier in the Star Mazda race. He made his bones by qualifying 4th his first time in the #77 Velocity Motorsports/ Benfield Group Mazda but tangled with the series regulars and found himself shuffled back to finish 15th.
Running 18 relatively clean laps at Mazda Raceway with its gravel traps lining every turn is no small accomplishment, and even with pretty much everyone keeping it on the black part, a fair amount of ‘kitty litter’ was spread around the track even in the early stages of the race. On lap 18, Mandarino, who started on the outside of the first row, spun his #15 Team G.FRO/Newway Forming Mazda in going up the hill and was T-boned at speed by Ron White, who had nowhere to go in the #69 Wunder-Bar/Ron White Racing Mazda. Mandarino looked grim in TV close-ups after the fact and White, who had won back-to-back races earlier in the season, qualified 7th and was hoping for a good result to launch his quest for a ride in 2008, was lucky to walk away.
Cleaning up the bits, large and small, took a number of laps, and the race finally went green again with about six minutes remaining. Cameron, whose re-starts up to that point had been flawless, got a bit of wheelspin coming off Turn 11 onto the front straight, which allowed Ardoin in the #51 Mundill Racing/Oral and Facial Surgery Center to get a run on him and set up the pass going into Turn Two. The battle lasted most of one lap before another yellow full-course yellow was thrown for a 4-car melee on the back side of the course that caused the race to finish under yellow.
“The Mundill team gave me a really good race car, and I drove a patient race that went pretty much the way I planned it,” said Ardoin. “I knew my car was as fast as Dane’s and it just took me a while to figure out how to get off that last turn as fast as he was. Once I did that, I was able to execute my pass and was hoping for a good battle for the rest of the race. The yellow flags prevented that, but I’m confident I could hold the lead and feel the race was fairly won. This was a big moment for me, at the biggest race of the year, and I’m really happy for my team and my parents and what this does for my future prospects.”
Ardoin’s record this year includes one pole, two podiums and four top-10 finishes. With his win today, he moved up to finish 6th in the championship with 345 points and collect season prize money of $30,000.
Cameron, who started on the pole – his sixth of the year -- finished a none-too-pleased second. Despite the hunger to win that made him one of only two rookie champions in the 17-year history of the Star Mazda Championship, he could afford to be pragmatic about the result. He had already clinched the championship in Round Eleven at Road Atlanta on October 5 with a record of three wins, six poles, four podiums and two top-5 finishes.
Earlier in the week, Camera had announced that, thanks to the sponsorship provided by the Mazda Motorsports Ladder program, he will be joining the championship winning Sierra Sierra/ProWorks team in the 2008 Cooper Tires Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. He also won $100,000 for winning the championship and $10,000 for winning Rookie of the Year as well as a 2008 Mazda RX-8 sports car.
“I wanted to win this race for the team, and to go out on top as I move from the Star Mazda Championship to the Champ Car Atlantic series next year,” said the Sonoma, California native who turned 19 on Thursday. “Circumstances during the race made that impossible, but Alex is a talented and deserving winner and I salute his victory here today.”
Finishing 3rd in the race, and clinching 2nd in the championship, was Australian racer James Davison. He qualified 5th in the #7 Velocity Motorsports/Easternats Mazda, and ran nose-to-tail with the leaders in the first half of the race. Like Cameron, he had a car capable of winning, was unable to capitalize on that potential under the circumstances. He finished the season with 352 points and collected $70,000 in prize money.
The Expert Series race-within-a-race for drivers aged 20 to 44 was won by Dan Tomlin III, driver of the #55 Team Tomlin Mazda, who also clinched the 2008 Expert Series championship with a record of three class wins and four class podiums.
The Master Series category, for drivers 45 and older, was won by Tomlin’s father, 64 year-old Dan Tomlin Jr., driver of the #58 Team Tomlin Mazda. He finished second in the Masters championship with a record of two class wins and seven class podiums. Finishing 2nd in the Masters class was Steve Hickham, who had already clinched the class championship in Round Eleven at Road Atlanta. Driving the #17 Maxwell Racing/HB Turbo Mazda, he compiled a record of five class wins and five class podiums.
Today’s season finale brought to a close a hard-fought 17th season of Star Mazda Championship racing that saw eight different winners in 12 races, and only three drivers, Cameron, White and Mandarino, win more than one race. Drivers from eight different countries competed and prizes worth almost $1.5 million were awarded. And next year promises to be bigger, better and more interesting with the series announcing that it will add Watkins Glen to the schedule, move to Goodyear radial tires and implement standing starts in 2008.
For more information on the Star Mazda Championship and its drivers, as well as the Mazda Motorsports ladder system, please visit www.starmazda.com and www.mazdausa.com.