|October 16-17, 1999 - Buttonwillow Raceway Park (Rounds 11 and 12)|
Could it happen twice in one weekend? Against all odds, it did. While leading both races, and with less than two laps remaining in each, mechanical gremlins struck Joey Hand's Star Mazda--not once, but twice-relegating him to 14th on Saturday and 16th on Sunday. Hand's misfortune meant race wins for WorldSpeed teammates Jeff Bucknum and Grant Ryley.
"In the back of my mind, when I went by Joey, I was remembering that it pays off to always race as hard as you can ... just in case," Bucknum said about Saturday's race win. "Until I saw him slowing in the East Loop, there was a glimmer of hope I could catch him, but not likely."
On Sunday, Ryley avoided a first lap melee involving Bucknum and Valley Motor Center teammates Tim Enoch and Matt Beardsley to assume second behind Hand from his fifth-place starting position. This was Ryley's third consecutive podium finish.
In Saturday's race, Hand jumped out to an early and commanding lead that increased to more than four seconds by lap five. Behind the Stacy Suspension Systems (S3) driver, Bucknum and Enoch battled for second. The best race on the track, however, was for fourth among Ryley, S3 teammates Alan Benson and Camilo Zurcher, Lynx/S3 driver Sara Senske, and Valley's Matt Beardsley and Brandon Peterson.
At the lap-eight mark, a full course yellow was called for an incident over the top of the Lost Hill turn on the West Loop involving Bryan Willman, Pierre Ehret and Scott Kusy. Apparently, as Ehret crested the turn, there were cars slowing at the top and Ehret lifted to avoid a collision. Unfortunately, the accordion effect caught Willman and Kusy, sending cars off the track. Luckily, no one was injured, although Kusy's Sports Car Ltd. Star Mazda sustained significant damage.
The race resumed on lap 11 with Hand again pulling away. On lap 15, Ginni Swanton safely headed to the pits with a collapsed rear wing assembly, but the track stayed green for racing. With less than six laps remaining, however, Bucknum and Enoch seemed to be closing in on the leader. Hand protected his lead, increasing the margin over Bucknum until lap 19 when the left-front, lower A-arm rod end snapped on Hand's car. Already driving at a disadvantage because of a knee injury sustained during his Team USA trip to England, Hand managed to keep the car on track and coax it to the finish.
This development not only shocked the spectators, but Bucknum as well. "I really hate seeing someone lose a race like that because it's happened to me," Bucknum said. "After I went by Joey, I just kept my head down and concentrated on getting to the checker."
Enoch finished comfortably in second. "Boy, that was a nice little gift," Enoch said. "I tried to drive as smooth as I could because I knew Camilo was right there."
In only his second Star Mazda Series race, Zurcher assumed third for his first podium finish. "I got a good jump on the start," the Bogota, Colombia driver said. "Sara and I had a good race, too." Rounding out the top five in Saturday's race was Ryley and Benson.
With Hand also earning the pole for Sunday's race, there was still hope the current points leader could come away with at least one win from the double weekend. In a repeat of Saturday's event, Hand claimed the lead and pulled away almost immediately. Behind him, however, Bucknum, Enoch and Beardsley were having trouble navigating through the sweeping Riverside left-hander. All three went off course, which gave Ryley, Zurcher and Mike Potekhen the open track they needed to head toward the front. Senske and Benson got caught in the dust cloud as well, with Senske falling back to 13th from her sixth-place starting position, and Benson losing eight spots in the confusion.
Bucknum recovered in 17th; Enoch fell back to 22nd and Beardsley headed to the pits. The track stayed green throughout the incident, which meant Hand was driving away from Ryley and Zurcher. Again, the battle for fourth was intense among Peterson, Potekhen and Bruno Lambert. Running an impressive seventh was Bob Negron with Ehret eighth, David Sterenberg ninth and Brian Reuter rounding out the top 10.
By lap six, however, Bucknum was back up to ninth and charging hard. Enoch was struggling with an ill-handling car, but was still making up positions, climbing up to 14th by lap nine. With the exception of Bucknum carving his way into the top 10, the order up front stayed intact until Potekhen and Bucknum got by Peterson on lap 15. Saturday's race winner was now fourth, having gained 13 positions after his first lap excursion.
Then, just as fast as it had happened on Saturday, Hand slowed on the back straight. This time, he coasted into the East Loop, through Club Corner, over the Grapevine and finally pulled off course at Cotton Corners. In post-race impound, as Hand struggled to make sense of his bad luck, the team's initial diagnosis was an electrical malfunction in the fuel pump.
It was Ryley's turn Sunday to be in the position to take advantage of Hand's misfortune. Zurcher improved on Saturday's outcome to finish second and Bucknum's perseverance was rewarded with a third-place trophy. Potekhen held off Lambert to finish fourth.
With one race remaining in Star Mazda Series West Division (Las Vegas, Nov. 6, in conjunction with the American LeMans event) the championship has come down to two drivers--Hand and Bucknum. Hand still holds the lead with 417 points to Bucknum's 401. Enoch maintains third at 385 with Potekhen fourth at 358. Senske moves into fifth with 340 points.
The Las Vegas race is also the final round of the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship, where Hand leads Enoch in the point standings, 204 to 195. Bucknum is third with 190 points.
For more information about the Star Mazda Series West Division Championship, please contact series administrator Gary Rodrigues at (818) 909-5319. -Jane Anderson
Round 10, Star Mazda Series West Division Championship
QUALIFYING: 1. Joey Hand, 1:44.698; 2. Jeff Bucknum, 1:44.894; 3. Tim Enoch, 1:45.156; 4. Grant Ryley, 1:45.569; 5. Alan Benson, 1:45.717; 6. Sara Senske, 1:45.727; 7. Brandon Peterson, 1:45.893; 8. Camilo Zurcher, 1:45.929; 9. Matt Beardsley, 1:46.533; 10. Bruno Lambert, 1:46.608; 11. Bob Negron, 1:47.064; 12. Mike Potekhen, 1:47.351; 13. Pierre Ehret, 1:47.450; 14. Bob Hatle, 1:48.756; 15. Alex Figge, 1:48.933; 16. David Sterenberg, 1:49.192; 17. Brian Reuter, 1:49.304; 18. Frank McCormick, 1:49.363; 19. Scott Kusy, 1:49.433; 20. Dave McMillan, 1:49.671; 21. Chris McMurry, 1:49.881; 22. Bryan Willman, 1:50.383; 23. Marc Hartranft, 1:51.104; 24. Ginni Swanton, 1:51.446; 25. Peter West, 1:51.980.
Round 11, Star Mazda Series West Division Championship
QUALIFYING: 1. Joey Hand, 1:43.969; 2. Jeff Bucknum, 1:44.302; 3. Tim Enoch, 1:44.525; 4. Matt Beardsley, 1:45.250; 5. Grant Ryley, 1:45.447; 6. Sara Senske, 1:45.471; 7. Camilo Zurcher, 1:45.849; 8. Alan Benson, 1:45.996; 9. Mike Potekhen, 1:46.210; 10. Bruno Lambert, 1:46.216; 11. Brandon Peterson, 1:46.225; 12. Bob Negron, 1:46.589; 13. Pierre Ehret, 1:46.991; 14. Alex Figge, 1:47.821; 15. David Sterenberg, 1:48.258; 16. Frank McCormick, 1:48.471; 17. Dave McMillan, 1:48.743; 18. Brian Reuter, 1:48.934; 19. Bob Hatle, 1:48.935; 20. Chris McMurry, 1:49.382; 21. Marc Hartranft, 1:50.219; 22. Bryan Willman, 1:50.365; 23. Scott Kusy, 1:50.620; 24. Ginni Swanton, 1:50.730; 25. Peter West, 1:51.240.
STAR MAZDA SERIES WEST
STAR MAZDA SERIES WEST
STAR MAZDA SERIES BEST
|Finishing Order - Round 11|
of Race: 40:54.939
Race Average Speed: 86.226 mph
Lap Leaders: Hand 1-19, Bucknam 20-21
Fastest Lap: Hand, 1:44.805
Margin of Victory: 10.105 seconds
|Finishing Order - Round 12|
of Race: 38.08.783
Race Average Speed: 92.486 mph
Lap Leaders: Hand 1-20, Ryley 21
Fastest Lap: Bucknum, 1:45.317
Margin of Victory: 2.530 seconds