3 vie for Star Mazda title at Laguna Seca
The 2008 Star Mazda Championship season, which concludes this weekend with Round 12 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, has been simultaneously lopsided and exciting; three drivers remain in contention for the championship, two of them having won eight of the eleven races so far… but all three have experienced the sort of adversity that either builds character or derails careers.
American John Edwards, who raced in the Atlantic Championship last year but lost his ride, decided to compete in the Star Mazda Championship this year in hopes of winning his way back to Atlantic in 2009. Driving the #7 AIM Autosport / Mobil1 Mazda, he won his debut event from the pole in Round 2 at Miller Motorsports Park, following up with wins in Race 2 Portland, Race 1 at New Jersey and Road Atlanta. But he missed the first race and finished 19th in Race 1 at Portland.
|(L to R) Joel Miller, John Edwards and Peter Dempsey share the podium at NJ Motorsports Park recently|
Irishman Peter Dempsey started the season with a podium, followed by a pair of top-5s, but finished 18th in Race 1 at Portland and 19th in Race 2 and looked to be done for the season as his funding had run out. A last-minute savior in the form of LotusWorks, an Irish-American software company, stepped in to provide funding for one more race and he rose to the challenge with a win at Road American, the first of three wins in a row at the wheel of the #21 Andersen Racing/LotusWorks/Center Jewellers.ie/Quayside.ie/ Allied Building Products Mazda. He scored a podium finish in Race 1 at New Jersey, and won Race 2, but then, despite starting from the pole, finished 17th at Road Atlanta due to a crash.
The season started with a dominant win from the pole at Sebring for American Joel Miller, who won the 2007 Skip Barber Pro Series championship and raced #20 JDC Motorsports / K&N Air Filters Mazda in the 2008 Star Mazda Championship with scholarship funding from the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Driver Development Ladder. His trials manifested with only a single win so far, as well as a 16th-place finish in Race 1 at Portland and a 15th at Road America. For the remainder of the season, however, Miller has had a very steady performance with seven podiums, two poles and a pair of top-5s. Miller is racing for the same team that produced 2007 Star Mazda Champion Dane Cameron, who, with funding from the MAZDASPEED Ladder raced this year in the #19 Genoa Racing/MAZDASPEED/Finlay Motorsports /Lynx Racing Swift 016.a.
The ultimate goal all three are fighting for is the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Driver Development Ladder scholarship to race in the 2009 Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. This remarkable program, the first-ever established by an auto manufacturer, provides scholarships to young champions on their way up the ladder. The karting champion gets sponsorship to race in the first step up the open-wheel ladder, the Skip Barber series. The Skip Barber Champion moves up to race in the Star Mazda Championship, while the Star Mazda champion wins a ride in the series at top run of the open-wheel development ladder, the Atlantic Championship.
While the big prize remains to be won, the remaining championships that are part of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, have been decided. Florida-based Andersen Racing, with two of the four remaining contenders (Dempsey and Gladdis) and seven of eleven wins, has already clinched the team championship. The Expert and Master Series championships have already been clinched as well, with Vancouver, B.C.'s Chris Cumming (right) winning in the Expert (drivers 30 to 44) category after scoring seven class wins and four class top-3 finishes in the #16 World Speed Motorsports / Inviro Medical Mazda. Cumming is 12th in the series championship headed into this weekend. Chuck Hulse, of Yorba Linda, California, also clinched his first Master category (drivers 45 and older) championship with seven class wins and four class top-3 finishes. Hulse (left) drives the #12 JDC Motorsports / Silicon Salvage Mazda and is currently 14th in the overall series championship.
Round 12 of the 2008 Star Mazda Championship will take place at during the American Le Mans season finale, the Monterey Sports Car Championships, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, October 16 – 18. On track action begins with a promoter's test day Thursday, Oct. 16. Official practice consists of two sessions, 8:00 – 8:40 am and 1:04 – 1:45 pm, Friday, Oct. 17. Qualifying for the race takes place from 9:00 to 9:45 am Saturday, Oct. 18, with the green flag scheduled to wave for the final 45-minute round of the 2008 Star Mazda Championship season at 12:15 pm. The race will be broadcast on SPEED TV Saturday, November 8 at 1:30 pm (ET).