2004 Star Mazda Series North American Championship presented by Goodyear – Round 8 at Road Atlanta

Petit Le Mans
Road Atlanta – Braselton, Georgia
September 22 – 24, 2004

McDowell wins sixth race of season, assumes championship lead at Road Atlanta

Friday, September 24, 2004. Braselton, Georgia. Any superlatives used to describe Michael McDowell’s season cannot completely explain the level of success he has achieved as he recorded his sixth victory of the season, moving the Phoenix, Arizona, native into the championship lead following Round Eight of the Star Mazda Series North American Championship presented by Goodyear. Joining McDowell on the podium were Luis Schiavo of Caracas, Venezuela, and Scott Jenkins of Portland, Oregon.

The championship points battle was shaken up on the opening lap of the event when Dan DiLeo, who entered the weekend as the points leader, having finished on the podium in each of his first seven races, was forced out of the race in the first corner after a collision with another car, bringing out the first of two full-course caution periods for the thirty lap event. “I was following Michael (McDowell) on the inside of the track as we took the green flag and somebody struck my rear corner and damaged my suspension,” DiLeo explained. “It’s frustrating to fall out of the championship lead but with two more events there’s still plenty of racing left.”

McDowell, who saw his 2003 championship hopes fade in the same corner, emerged unscathed this time and led every lap on his way to an amazing sixth win of the season. “I have mixed feelings after the race,” McDowell said afterwards. “While I’m always excited to win I would have preferred to race Dan for the points lead on the track. As teammates, Dan and I have worked closely all year and I feel bad that this happened to him. All that said it feels great to be in the championship lead and I have to give all the credit to Star Race Cars for giving me a great car once again.”

While McDowell was able to stretch out a lead for most of the race in his Drive4USA/Sparco.Star Race Cars Mazda, the battle for second through seventh was the fiercest it has been all season. Scott Jenkins held the second position for the opening laps of the event in his Environmental Fibers International Mazda only to be overtaken by Jonathan Klein’s Andersen-Walko Racing entry by lap five. Klein, who had powered his way up from seventh, would hang onto the spot for five laps, but would be unable to capitalize and would fall out of the race on lap sixteen with a shredded left rear tire.

Also making a strong drive through the field was Schiavo, the 2003 series champion working his way into third place after starting tenth overall in his Energy Freight Racers Edge Motorsports Mazda. Schiavo found himself in a race long battle with sixteen year old hotshoe, Robert Pecorari, who was making his series debut in the second Andersen-Walko entry. Pecorari continually attacked Schiavo’s grip on third as they drafted down the back straight, but the veteran Schiavo was able to hold his ground. “While I didn’t seem to have the same amount of power that he had I was able to get a good run through the corner as we came onto the back straight and I just defended the inside line,” Schiavo explained. “He would draft up on me and pull outside to try to make the pass but couldn’t finish it off.”

The second caution period of the race came in the waning laps of the event when crews were dispatched to remove the crippled car of Kurt Roehrig from a hazardous position on the front straight, negating the lead that McDowell had established and creating a one-lap shootout to the checkered flag. “I was a little nervous when the call went out for a full-course caution because I wasn’t sure if there were any lapped cars between me and Jenkins,” McDowell revealed. “I slowed down as much as I could, hoping it would end under the yellow. As the field regrouped I realized that there was a lapped car between us and when the green flag came out for the final lap I was able to create a gap once again.”

Jenkins was not so fortunate, though his pit crew was talking with the lapped traffic to open a path once the green flag came out, he was unable to get close enough to McDowell and Schiavo was able to exploit his situation. “We had talked with Jim Malackowski’s crew and had worked out that he would move to the inside at the restart but I couldn’t pass him until the green flag,” Jenkins explained. “I knew Luis would get a good run on me and tried to hold on but he was able to get around me and take second place.”

The final lap would jumble the field one more time when Nick Steele ran into the back of Raphael Matos, who had run sixth for most of the event, as they entered the braking zone entering the chicane at the end of the back straight. The contact would send Steele airborne and both drivers would finish their race in the gravel trap. The incident also collected several other drivers with sixth place finisher, Brian Frisselle, crossing the finish line without his rear wing.

The series now travels across the country to the one-mile oval of Phoenix International Raceway for round nine of the ten race championship in one-week’s time. McDowell, who came into the weekend 24 points adrift of DiLeo, now holds a 13 point lead with 298 points to DiLeo’s 286. Jenkins also sits in the heart of the championship battle with 275 points.

Round Eight of the Star Mazda Series presented by Goodyear will be televised on Speed Channel on October 10th at 12:00 PM Eastern Time. For more information on the series please visit www.starmazda.com.

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