|June 7, 1998 - Laguna Seca Raceway - Round Six (23 Laps)|
Miller Leads Huge 48-Car Field To Checker
A record-setting field of 48 drivers qualified for the sixth round of the Star Mazda Series/West Division race at Laguna Seca Raceway, held in conjunction with a San Francisco Regional road racing event at the historic 2.238-mile road course.
World Speed teammates Mikel Miller and Jeff Bucknum, who were the fastest of the impressive group of Star Mazda drivers, took advantage by pairing up for qualifying with Bucknum claiming pole and Miller on the outside of the front row. "We were the first two cars in line to qualify," Bucknum said. "Mike went out first and I just tucked in behind him, and it worked." Barely. Bucknum out-qualified Miller by a scant 0.007sec!
"For qualifying, we were nose to gearbox for five good, clean laps before we hit traffic," Miller added. "I knew we had a chance to sweep the front row."
Stacy Suspension System driver and current rookie of the year points leader Ian Lacy qualified third, just about a half second off Miller's time. Behind Lacy were other front-running contenders, including series newcomers Joey Hand, Nick Steele and Jason Storace as well as veteran Star Mazda drivers Bruno Lambert, Michael Potekhen, Sara Senske and Kevin Jenkins, who all combined to round out the top 10 qualifiers.
Miller and Bucknum did spend time before the Sunday race talking strategy, especially in regard to the start, Miller said. "I really like being teammates with Jeff," said Miller, who took over the Star Mazda points lead with this victory. "The start was good for both of us because I know we anticipated each other and we stayed close."
Bucknum, however, got the better jump and led Miller, Lacy, Hand, Potekhen, Storace, Jenkins, Muniz, Senske and Lambert for the first four laps. With the exception of a first lap melee that claimed Brandon Peterson and temporarily side-tracked Lambert and Steele, the top five positions remained intact until lap six when Storace was overtaken by Muniz and Jenkins. Jim Hall II, apparently recovered from a down-on-horsepower problem that had plagued the Valley Motor Center team all weekend, climbed from his 21st starting position and was up into the top 10 by lap eight.
The situation up front found Bucknum holding off Miller, who in turn was busy keeping Lacy at bay. "Right around lap eight, I think I finally pulled away from Ian enough to focus on Jeff," Miller said. "Ian was always right there, and I just couldn't go after Jeff while I was busy holding off Ian."
On lap 17, the story started to change--dramatically. First, fifth-place runner Potekhen ran out of race track while he was passing lapped cars, damaging the right front suspension when he went off-course. Up front, however, Miller was reeling in Bucknum--too fast.
"I still can't believe this happened," Bucknum said. What the race-long leader was referring to was an errant shop rag he ran over on the track that somehow lodged itself around his left front suspension, close enough to the caliper that his brakes started to overheat. "Boy, that lead I had sure dwindled fast when the brakes went soft," Bucknum said. "There wasn't much I could do, but I didn't make it easy when Mike wanted to get by me, even though I wanted a 1-2 finish for World Speed."
Miller took the lead in Turn Five, admitting both he and Bucknum did a couple "Zanardi's" (referring to CART's Alex Zanardi and his over-taking maneuvers at Laguna last year), battling over the lead.
"That race was mine to win if I didn't pick up that rag," Bucknum said. "I really felt comfortable leading."
With Miller out front, the race progressed to lap 18 when a full course yellow condition was signaled to the drivers for an incident involving Mark Hartranft and Derry O'Donnovan. When the track was clear for racing, just one lap remained to the checker. "I would have been perfectly happy finishing under yellow," Miller said. Bucknum, however, took the opportunity to cool his front brakes and devise a last-lap plan to regain the lead.
"There just wasn't enough time, and I had plenty to do just holding off Ian," Bucknum said.
At the checker, Miller crossed the line with 0.414sec to spare. Bucknum clung to second by 0.601sec over Lacy. Hand defended his fourth-place starting position with Jenkins finishing fifth. Muniz, from 11th on the grid, claimed sixth and was followed to the line by 21st starter Hall. Robert Orcutt, like Hall, also turned in an impressive drive, finishing eighth after starting 23rd. Senske and Brian Snyder rounded out the top 10 finishers.
Miller is back in the points lead with 160 to Lacy's 154. Hall and Bucknum are tied for third with 123 points. Muniz rounds out the top five points leaders with 117.
Top 10 Points Standings (After 6 of 13 rounds):
1. Miller, 160; 2. Lacy, 154; 3. Hall II tied with Bucknum, 123; 5. Muniz, 117; 6. Hand, 112; 7. Jenkins, 111; 8. Steele, 101; 9. Senske, 99; 10. Snyder, 87.
Top 5 Master Series Point Standings (After 6 of 13 rounds):
1. Hatle, 92; 2. McCormick, 76; 3. Hill, 61; 4. Weyland, 56; 5. Mabey, 53.
|7th||Jim Hall II|
|Time of Race: 40m28.366s
Race Average Speed: 76.309mph
Lap Leaders: Bucknum 1-17; Miller 18-23
Fastest Lap: Lacy, 1:28.340 (91.203mph)
Margin of Victory: 0.414sec