|July 17 , 1999 - Irwindale Speedway|
|Irwindale Debut For Star Mazdas Nets Win For
IRWINDALE SPEEDWAY-In one of the most exciting races of the season, Jeff Bucknum thwarted race-long threats from several different drivers to win his first Star Mazda Series race of the year. Bucknum, who is the 26-year-old son of Formula 1, Indy car, Trans-Am and sports car legend Ronnie Bucknum, got by polesitter Tim Enoch on lap three and then held off various charges by Enoch, Brandon Peterson, Sara Senske, Joey Hand and Mike Potekhen in the closing laps to claim victory in front of a very enthusiastic Southern California crowd. Behind eventual second-place finisher Peterson, Lynx Racing/S3 driver Senske claimed third-the first podium finish for a woman at the new Southern California facility.
"I really enjoyed racing on this track," said Bucknum. "It lived up to all the good things I had heard."
The Saturday night, one-day format was the first Professional Sports Car Racing event sanctioned at Irwindale Speedway, and was a novelty for the Star Mazda contingent, who are more accustomed to the two- or three-day weekend schedules. Everyone adjusted well to the accelerated slate that included four practice sessions, single-car qualifying, two, 25-lap heat races and a 75-lap main that was run about 8 p.m. under the Irwindale's impressive lights.
After qualifying and the heat races, Enoch was definitely the driver to beat as he first posted the fast pole time and then a blazing 17-flat in the first heat race. Starting positions for the heats were determined by lining up the odd-placed cars by time for Heat #1 and the
even-placed cars by time for Heat #2. From the heat race finishes, the main event grid was formulated by taking the fastest elapsed heat race time (Heat #1) for the inside row, which meant Enoch started on pole. Finishers from Heat #2 were lined up on the outside with Bucknum sharing the front row.
Tire management was the key as race officials announced in the drivers' meeting that the same set was to be used for qualifying, heat race and the main. With temperatures hovering in the mid- to upper-80s for most of the day and evening, the track was hot and conserving rubber was essential.
The 19-car starting field got the green on the first try with Enoch leading Bucknum and Hand. It took just three, laps, however, for Bucknum to ease by Enoch. The Valley Motor Center driver tried to stay close to World Speed's Bucknum, but was distracted by Hand, who was running close in third.
The first yellow came out on lap 24 for a Turn Two collision between Taylor Fletcher and Bryan Willman that sent an errant wheel off Fletcher's car across the vacant infield to rest on the front straight. Luckily, everyone avoided the obstacle and the race was back underway on lap 30 with Bucknum leading Enoch, a hard-charging Peterson and Hand.
Lapped traffic started to play a role around lap 44 when Bucknum and Enoch pulled away from the six-car lead train that now included Potekhen and Senske. As the leaders navigated the slower cars sometimes three- and four-wide through the turns, positions were swapped-the most notable being Peterson's, Senske's and Potekhen's moves into striking distance of the leaders. "You had to make your choices in traffic very quickly," Bucknum explained. "Luckily, my car was working high and low, so I could really pick and choose which way I was going to go."
Unfortunately, Enoch spun in Turn Four on lap 54, barely escaping being hit by Peterson. Not able to restart his car right away forced the head flagman to throw yellow flag and gather up the field. Under oval rules, Enoch was sent to the back of the pack for causing the yellow. When the green came out again, Bucknum got the jump with Peterson, Senske, Potkehen and Hand in hot pursuit.
With less than 15 laps to go, one last yellow for Darren Millar bunched the field. The race resumed on lap 69 for what would be the dash to the checker. By this time, Enoch had worked his way back up to sixth. Bucknum looked comfortable out front, although Peterson was still in contention should something go wrong. Senske and Potekhen, however, were locked in a terrific battle for third, which was decided as the pair exited Turn Four and Senske had the fast line to the checker.
In the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship points race, Enoch and Hand are tied for first with 187 points. Potekhen moves up one spot into third at 178. Rounding out the top five are Bucknum, 176, and Senske, 165.
The sixth round of the Star Mazda Series West Division championship is slated for July 24 at Sears Point, which is also the fourth round of the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship. For more information about either the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship or Star Mazda Series West Division Championship, please contact series administrator Gary Rodrigues at (818) 909-5319. -Jane Anderson
Star Mazda Series West Championship Top 10 Point Standings
Star Mazda Series West Masters Championship Top 5 Point Standings
Race Average Speed: 81.709 mph
Lap Leaders: Enoch 1-3, Bucknam 4-75
Fastest Lap: 17.517, Senske
Margin of Victory:0.706s