2005 Star Mazda Series North American Championship presented by Goodyear – Round 8 at Portland
Graham Rahal earns first pro victory at Portland International Raceway
July 30, 2005. Portland, Oregon. Graham Rahal of New Albany, Ohio, captured his first professional victory in his Bobby Rahal Automotive Group Mazda at Portland International Raceway today in Round Eight of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, edging out James Hinchcliffe in his AIM Autosport Mazda at the finish line by 0.317 seconds. Robbie Pecorari of Aston, Pennsylvania, captured the final podium spot, finishing third in his SAI Hydraulics Andersen Walko Racing Mazda, 0.854 seconds behind Rahal.
Rahal, the son of 3-time IndyCar Champion Bobby Rahal, revealed a special bond with Portland, winning his first karting race in the Rose City and now his first professional open-wheel victory. “When I got here this weekend and was riding around the track I just had a good feeling,” Rahal explained. “With the success in karting and the success Max Papis had driving for my dad here in the past, Portland has been a special place. The team has worked really hard and after coming so close at Pikes Peak I wasn’t going to finish second this time around.”
The race, originally scheduled for 35 laps, would ultimately cover 28 laps as a result of several caution flags, culminating in a two-lap shootout to the finish between Rahal, Hinchcliffe and Pecorari. With Hinchcliffe and Pecorari already recording victories at Infineon Raceway and Pikes Peak respectively, Rahal knew he would have to push to hold them off. “The officials had told us in the driver’s meeting that we could accelerate once we could see the starter’s stand, so when we came onto the front straight I just punched it,” Rahal explained. “James and I went pretty deep into the Festival Chicane and I actually had to shift down to first gear but I was able to get a good run out of the corner and didn’t make any other mistakes the rest of the way.”
Though disappointed about the second place finish, Hinchcliffe, from Oakville, Ontario, Canada, praised Rahal on his victory. “I feel like we had the fastest car out there today but the caution periods hurt us,” He would explain. “Each time I was able to open up a gap but on the final restart Graham made a great move when I thought I had protected the corner and was able to get through. We raced each other pretty hard into the chicane, and we both went too deep but we managed to make it through without any contact. It has been an interesting few races in that a few weeks ago I was thrilled to just be on the podium but now I’m crushed that we didn’t win because everyone at the team has worked so hard.”
Pecorari, who entered the race in second place in the championship, gained ground on championship points leader Raphael Matos with his fourth podium finish of the season. “My car was really good on restarts but as we got heat in the tires it would get loose,” Pecorari said. “Finishing a few spots ahead of Raphael was good though as we were able to move a little bit closer in the championship battle.”
All three drivers attributed their success to a level of cooperation between their two teams as AIM Autosport and Andersen Walko Racing have shared information and personnel, a collaboration proved successful today as the two teams would claim six of the top eight spots, with Hinchcliffe’s AIM Autosport teammate, Mark Wilkins, finishing fourth and the final Andersen Walko Racing drivers, Pablo Donoso and Jonathan Klein, finishing sixth and eighth respectively. “Our two teams have always had a special relationship where our goal is to get all seven of our cars to the front,” Rahal commented. “Last season one of AIM Autosports’ owners was Robbie’s engineer and we’re all friends that have racing together in karting for years.”
Championship points leader Matos, of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, finished fifth in his Ocean Tomo Racing Mazda, surviving close calls on the opening laps of the event to protect his championship lead. With eight of twelve races complete Matos sits in first with 309 points while Pecorari inches closer with 278 points. Hinchcliffe remains in third place with 274 points while Rahal moves into fourth place with 250 points. Donoso, who earned his third consecutive pole position this weekend, moves into fifth place with 230 points.
In the expert series championship, for drivers aged 30-44, Ocean Tomo Racing driver James Malackowski posted his first victory of the season ahead of Portland, Oregon-native Phil Fogg, Jr. Micky Gilbert continues to lead the Expert Series Championship in his Eurosport Racing Mazda with 131 points, while Mike Anderson in the Team HASA Racing Mazda is currently second with 109 points, and Brian Thienes is third in the Hearn Motorsports Mazda.
In the Masters Championship, for drivers aged 45 and older, John Pew would come out on top in his Velocity Motorsports Mazda, recording his third Masters class victory of the year as he continues to lead the championship with 130 points, while John Faulkner in his Peregrine Motorsports Mazda sits in second place with 122 points and Doug Peterson holds third with 113 points.
The series now heads north to Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Canada for a special non-championship exhibition event at the famed Trois-Rivieres street circuit on August 5-7. The Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear picks up again on August 18-20 at Road America with the American Le Mans Series. Round Eight from Portland is scheduled to be broadcast by Speed Channel on Sunday, September 18 at 2:00PM Eastern Time.