2004 Star Mazda Series North American Championship presented by Goodyear – Round 1 Sebring International Raceway

Sebring International Raceway / Sebring, Florida
March 15-19, 2004
Daniel DiLeo Claims Victory in Series Debut at Sebring International Raceway

March 19, 2004. Sebring, Florida. For the third consecutive season a series rookie emerged victorious at Sebring International Raceway as Dan DiLeo drove like a seasoned veteran to claim the first victory in the new Pro Formula Mazda at its debut in Round One of the Star Mazda Series North American Championship presented by Goodyear.

DiLeo, who hails from Toronto, Canada, had placed his Star Race Cars Mazda on the pole position earlier in the day Friday, breaking the track record set by Michael McDowell in the Standard Formula Mazda last season by over eight seconds. While the new car was certainly quick, DiLeo credits patience and planning with getting him the victory. “We new going into the race that tire wear was going to be a big deal,” DiLeo explained. “The Star Race Cars team and Rick and Steve Cameron had a meeting before the race and while we wanted to hold onto the lead if we could we knew the race would be won by whoever had the best tires in the last ten minutes of the race.”

As the green flag fell DiLeo would have to put his plan into action as fellow rookie Brian Frisselle jumped into the lead in the first corner in his Ventura Travel Services sponsored G&W Motorsports prepared Mazda. The promising rookies lead would be short-lived however as Michael McDowell, who had qualified fourth in his Drive 4 USA/Star Race Cars Mazda, made contact with the back of his car as they entered the hairpin. Frisselle was able to get the car back around to pit lane but elected to retire when the car picked up a serious vibration.

McDowell appeared to emerge from the incident unscathed and led the field for the next nine laps, building a gap as large as six seconds at one point, before he started to notice tire problems on the corner that had made contact with Frisselle’s car. “As the race went on I could feel that my left front tire was losing pressure,” McDowell said. “DiLeo was able to close the gap and make his move at the halfway point, and I started trying my best to hold my position.”

DiLeo, his tires still fresh, closed the gap to McDowell and jumped around him as they passed the halfway point of the twenty lap event and started to open up a little gap between himself and the rest of the field. Moses Smith, worked his way around McDowell five laps later and set off on a mission to catch DiLeo. “The American Speed Factory 3 Dimensional Services Mazda was getting faster lap after lap and I was able to close the gap a bit in case DiLeo slipped up somewhere,” Smith related. “He drove an excellent race and we are happy to be up here on the podium to start the season.”

Rounding out the podium was Eurosports Racing driver Michael Potekhen. Potekhen, who had finished second here in the 2003 event, had also been driving a steady race and was pressuring McDowell for third place when McDowell went wheels off as they came onto the backstraight. As McDowell fought for control Potekhen used his momentum to motor his way into third place as the laps wound down. “I gave McDowell a little room when he went wide in case he came back across the track in front of me but was able to make the pass stick,” Potekhen explained. “This new car is awesome and while I would’ve loved to taken victory this is a great way to start the season.”

Several other drivers also had impressive drives on their way to top ten finishes. HASA Pool Products driver Mike Anderson qualified tenth in his Mazda but managed to work his way through the field to finish a solid fourth place, while directly behind him was Nick Steele, who had battled tonsillitis throughout the weekend to secure a top five on his return to the series after a five-year absence.

Defending series champion, Luis Schiavo, found himself down in eighteenth place on the grid after a difficult qualifying session in his Racers Edge Motorsports Mazda but Managed to fight his way up as high as seventh place before mechanical troubles dropped him down to tenth at the finish.

Round Two of the Star Mazda Series North American Championship presented by Goodyear will be held with the American Le Mans Series event at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course on June 24-26.T he Sebring round of the championship will be broadcast by Speed Channel on April 4th at 12:00 PM Eastern Time. For more information please visit www.starmazda.com.

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