|June 28, 1998 - Watkins Glen International Raceway (28 Laps)|
After Intense Leader Shuffle
The eastern division of the Star Mazda Series hosted its only SCCA Pro Racing-sanctioned and espn2-televised race of the season with an event at the beautiful and historic Watkins Glen road course in Central New York. Despite a small-at least in Star Mazda terms-field of just 12 cars, there were four changes for the lead with all four of those exchanges occurring within the last eight circuits of the 28-lap race.
Bernardo Martinez, of Toledo, Ohio, who claimed the victory after a spirited late-race battle with Bob Kaminsky, of Chicago, and Daniel Muniz, of Costa Rica, recovered from an early-race miscue that left him in last place and on a mission to get back up front.
"We put a whole new set-up on the car for the race, including different gear ratios and I just missed a shift going into Turn 10," Martinez said. Luckily, it was only lap one, which left Martinez with plenty of time to catch up and set the fastest race lap in the process. "What we did to the car was a huge gamble, but it worked."
The complexion of the race changed dramatically from the time it started to the moment when the checker fell. The West division's 1997 champion Tony Buffomante made a second "guest" appearance (he won the Indianapolis Raceway Park event in May), this time piloting a car Valley Motor Center prepares for West Coast driver Nick Steele. From his pole position-that he earned by a scant 0.04sec over local Watkins Glen favorite Pete Argetsinger-Buffomante led the opening 19 laps, eventually building more than a 10-second lead over Argetsinger, Muniz, last year's Central division Star Mazda champion Kaminsky and Darren Palmer.
On lap 12, however, things got kind of interesting. When the track went to a full-course yellow condition for a single-car incident involving Emmett Murphy, Buffomante watched as his huge cushion and the four-car train that was chasing him was now right on his rear wing. Argetsinger, however, had to dash into the pits for a flat left-rear tire, which put Kaminsky up to second with Martinez, Muniz and Palmer holding down third, fourth and fifth places, respectively, behind the pace car.
When the track went green again, Buffomante scooted out into the lead with Kaminsky in hot pursuit and ready to take advantage should Buffomante make a rare mistake. Unfortunately, mechanical malfunctions are beyond everyone's control, and Buffomante's day ended on lap 19 when a lower camber rod end snapped. Kaminsky, then, found himself in the lead with a two to three second gap back to Martinez.
Both Kaminsky and Martinez agreed that in the closing laps of the race, picking up the draft was crucial. "I used the draft in Turns Two, Three and Four to make passes into the entrance to the chicane several times," said Martinez, who drives with the Indianapolis-based Nash-Melak Motorsports team. "Honestly, I didn't realize the draft was going to be such a big deal at Watkins Glen."
Apparently, the television crews were ecstatic about the on-track action between Kaminsky and Martinez. Kaminsky, who was doing his best in his Armstrong Heating & Cooling Products-sponsored Formula Mazda to check Martinez' advances, looked as though he was on his way to victory. Unfortunately, some confusion about the lap count lulled Kaminsky into a false sense of security and both Martinez and Muniz were there to take the advantage.
So, from last place, Martinez claimed the win after almost getting mired in a sand pit. "I knew I had to be patient, specially in the beginning until I made sure the car was OK," said the sports medicine/biology student. "After that, I just focused on putting in consistent, fast laps, and I could see I was making progress."
|Time of Race: 46m08.273s
Race Average Speed: 87.909mph
Lap Leaders: Buffomante 1-19; Kaminsky 20-24, 26 Martinez 25, 27-28
Fastest Lap: Martinez, 1:17.912 (113.205mph)
Margin of Victory: 1.810sec.