|November 14, 1998 - Phoenix International Raceway Road Course - Round Thirteen (40 Laps)|
|First Win For
Bucknum; Championship To Lacy
Jeff Bucknum gave notice he was ready to claim his first career Star Mazda victory when he out-qualified soon-to-be-crowned 1998 Star Mazda Series champion Ian Lacy by 0.169sec and then went on to lead all 40 laps of the Saturday afternoon race.
"More than anything, this really gives me good momentum for next year," said WorldSpeed team driver Bucknum, who is hoping to compete in SCCA's Trans-Am championship in 1999.
For Lacy, capping off an almost unbelievable season with an eighth win would have been nice, but to claim the championship and rookie of the year honors, the Stacy Suspension Systems driver merely needed to finish 11th or better. "I thought about getting alongside Jeff on the start and challenge him for the lead into Turn One, but I decided to play it safe and slide in behind him instead," said Lacy, whose 1999 racing plans are already in place as team driver for DSTP Motorsports in the U.S. F2000 National Championship.
The last race of the 1998 Star Mazda season was held in conjunction with a Double Regional SCCA club racing event, hosted by the Arizona Region at Phoenix International Raceway. Utilizing the 1.6-mile interior road course, the Mazdas practiced, qualified and raced on Saturday, which left plenty of time for the banquet celebration on Saturday night.
The 41-car field included most of the series regulars, but also some front-runners from neighboring divisions, including Southwest's Tim Magrath and Quad Boenker. It took two tries for the field to receive the initial green, but once the race got started, all 40 laps were run to the checker (with the exception of local yellows in a couple of the turns).
Bucknum jumped into the lead, holding off Lacy, Kevin Jenkins, Mikel Miller and Michael Potekhen as the 20 rows of cars successfully sorted themselves out through the first turn. While Bucknum led Lacy, Miller got by Jenkins to take over third and continue his pursuit of Bucknum and Lacy. On lap 16, Miller got by Lacy for second as the pair dove into Turn One while navigating lapped traffic. Miller then set his sights on fellow Worldspeed teammate Bucknum, and got within four seconds of the leader before the checker. "To catch him, I just kept trying to do qualifying time laps," Miller said.
Behind the lead trio, Jenkins was holding down fourth place until a lap 26 mishap with a lapped car ended his race early. Bruno Lambert, likewise, was the victim of a collision with a slower car, which ended his race on lap 29.
When Jenkins and Lambert departed, Potekhen moved up to fourth and Joey Hand was now in fifth, but neither had enough time to catch the top three. Instead, Hand tried to chase down Potekhen for fourth, but the Heartland Park winner held off the Pikes Peak winner for the position.
Finishing sixth was Valley Motor Center's Daniel Muniz, who was followed across the finish line by Valley teammate Jim Hall II in seventh. Rounding out the top 10 were Texas Autosport's Tim Magrath, Star Mazda newcomer Paul Beregszaszy and SCCA's 1990 Formula Continental champion Craig Taylor, who just clipped a fuel-starved Brandon Peterson at the finish line for 10th place. In fact, the Taylor/Peterson battle wasn't the only photo finish at the line. Brian Snyder was surprised to find a slowing Matt Downs limping toward the checker, beating him to the line to claim 13th.
Star Mazda Series promoter Gary Rodrigues hosted the awards banquet Saturday evening, which attracted more than 160 drivers, crew members, family, friends and series well-wishers. As expected, Lacy earned the 1998 Star Mazda Series title as well as rookie of the year honors. Miller claimed second and Bucknum was third. Hand's performance earlier in the day elevated him past Hall into fourth place in the championship. The top 10 drivers in the points were given opportunities to accept their awards publicly, which when all was said and done amounted to more than $180,000 in prize money and contingencies, according to Rodrigues.
In other noteworthy presentations, the President's Cup, given for the driver most representative of the Formula Mazda spirit, was won by Brian Snyder; the first Brian Wilson Memorial Trophy for outstanding contributions by a Star Mazda Series mechanic or crew chief, was presented to Sean Mellick (crew chief for Brian Snyder); and Bob Hatle was crowned the Master Series champion (for drivers 45 and older).
The 1999 Star Mazda Series schedule is in its final stages of development, and Rodrigues hopes to release the dates-including the popular espn2-televised events-within the next two weeks. For more information about the Star Mazda Series, please contact Gary Rodrigues at (818) 909-5319 or check out the Formula Mazda website at www.starmazda.com. -Jane Anderson
Top 10 Point Standings (After 13 of 13 rounds)
Top 10 Master Series Point Standings (After 13 of 13 rounds)
|7th||Jim Hall II|
|Time of Race: 46m40.865s
Race Average Speed: 82.260mph
Lap Leaders: Bucknum 1-40
Fastest Lap: Bucknum, 1:00.854 (94.653mph)
Margin of Victory: 5.577sec