|April 24 , 1999 - Buttonwillow Raceway Park (Round 1)|
|New Season Kicks Off With Hand Out Front
The 1999 Star Mazda Series West Division Championship kicked off the new season at this San Joaquin Valley road course with Joey Hand, of Sacramento, Calif., leading all 20 laps of the 58.2-mile race, which was held in conjunction with Cal Club's SCCA National weekend.
From the pole, Stacy Suspension Systems' Hand was very much in control, eventually increasing his lead over Bucknum by nearly six seconds at the checker. World Speed's Bucknum, who is the 26-year-old son of Formula 1, Indy car, Trans-Am and sports car legend Ronnie Bucknum, held onto second place for all 20 laps even after mid-race challenges from third-place finisher Brandon Peterson, from the Valley Motor Center stable.
Sports Car Ltd.'s Michael Potekhen actually jumped into third on the start, but Peterson stayed close and re-claimed the position as the pair entered the Sunset turn (aka Turn One). "I just wanted to hang on and get onto the podium," said the 20-year-old Peterson.
Back up front, Bucknum was obviously trying very hard to close in on Hand, dropping wheels in the East Loop near the sequence of Grapevine turns. "I sure missed that braking point," Bucknum admitted. "That's what really made that six-second margin. What I was concerned about at that point was shaking out any dirt or grass that might have gotten stuck in the radiators. I didn't need to overheat the car."
With the green flag shown from the I-5 straight as the pack headed into the Riverside left-hander, Hand eventually got the jump as he and Bucknum raced side-by-side. "Once I got ahead of Jeff, I ran as hard as I could for a few laps," said the 20-year-old karting champion. "The car really felt good all race long."
Behind the top three, Potekhen defended his fourth-place position from challenges by several drivers, including Bruno Lambert, Paul Beregsaszy and Alan Benson, who eventually led Lambert to the line in fifth. Unfortunately, Beregsaszy fell back to 12th on lap 13 after running as high as fifth before a miscue in the Off-Ramp turn on the East Loop.
With Lambert in sixth, series rookie and Canadian resident Darrin Millar finished an impressive seventh. Fellow rookie contender Tim Enoch, of Mission Viejo, Calif., climbed all the way from last on the grid to finish eighth. Formula Mazda veteran Bob Negron was ninth with Beregsaszy moving up to round out the top 10 when Sara Senske penalized two positions for passing under the yellow.
In the championship points race, Hand leads Bucknum 45 to 40, earning an extra point for the pole position. Peterson is third at 37, followed by Potekhen at 34 and Benson is fifth with 32 points.
The second round of the Star Mazda Series West Division Championship is slated for May 30, at Phoenix Int'l Raceway. For more information about the Star Mazda Series West Division Championship, please contact series administrator Gary Rodrigues at (818) 909-5319 or check out the Star Mazda Series website at www.starmazda.com. -Jane Anderson
Top 10 Points Standings (After 1 of
Race Average Speed: 92.585 mph
Lap Leaders: Hand 1-20
Fastest Lap: 1:49.221 by Joey Hand
Margin of Victory: 5.838 seconds