|April 17 , 1999 - Road Atlanta (Round 2 Best Western Championship)|
Southern California's Tim Enoch claimed his first
professional win, beating a field of 41 Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship
competitors at Road Atlanta. Enoch, who started from the pole and led all but one lap of
the 66.56-mile contest, also set fast race lap (which was clocked at 0.153sec quicker than
Amazingly, this is almost exactly what happen ... eventually. Because of some contact between cars farther back in the field, the race got off to a shaky start, even after one aborted attempt at the initial green. On the second try, the field lined up nicely and the race began. The order was short-lived, however, as World Speed's Grant Ryley slowed
dramatically from his fourth-place starting position on the second row as the cars took the green. The accordion effect forced drivers to both sides of Ryley, the most dramatic of which was Matt Beardsley's choice of the grass strip along the outside of the front straight.
Superb car control and a wise decision by Beardsley not to immediately steer the car back on the racing surface avoided what could have been a major pile-up. Luckily, 20-year-old Beardsley, who spent the winter competing as a Junior Olympic skier, recovered to join the field in 16th from his 10th-place starting position.
Unfortunately, just as Beardsley was getting back up to speed, cars were colliding in the back section of the 2.56-mile course. Tom Mabey, Wally Dyer and Jennifer Tumminelli, who was also competing in the Women's GT Global competition, came together near Turn Seven, sidelining Mabey and Dyer, and sending Tumminelli to the pits for repairs. This incident brought out a temporary and spotty, full-course yellow condition which confused some of the drivers, including leader Enoch.
"I came out of Turn 10 fully expecting the pace car," said Enoch, whose father, Ron, raced a Formula Vee at Road Atlanta in the early 1970's. Instead what he found were no flags at start finish, which signified a green course. "The next thing I know, Jeff is by me. That was my one mistake." Loosing communication with crew chief Ron Roland didn't help either as Enoch, who was also battling an inner-ear infection, wasn't able to hear instructions from his pit.
With Bucknum out front, Enoch focused on making a move to regain the lead in Turn One, drafting Bucknum down the back straight and making the pass as the pair headed toward the new chicane. "Tim signaled to me that he wanted to work together, but he was really hooked up," said World Speed's Bucknum, who is the 26-year-old son of Formula 1, Indy car, Trans-Am and sports car legend Ronnie Bucknum. "Tim was gonna take off and I don't know if Superman could have beat him today."
However, before Enoch could officially lead again, the yellow came out once more, this time to rescue Beardsley who was stranded in the gravel pit on the outside of Turn One.
When the track went green, Bucknum managed to hold off Hand for four laps after relinquishing the lead to Enoch, but the Stacy Suspension Systems/Red Line Oil/Maaco Auto Painting (of Vacaville, Calif.)/Emmick Racing Karts-sponsored driver was focused on Bucknum and intent on moving into second place.
"Jeff and I had some great dices in traffic," said the 20-year-old karting champion. On lap nine, Hand found a way by in Turn Seven, where Bucknum admitted Hand was getting off the corner faster.
"I needed another shot at Joey so I waited for an opportunity in lapped traffic," said Bucknum, whose racing effort is supported by Shames Construction and Red Line Oil. Unfortunately, when that chance presented itself, the lapped car acknowledged Hand, but didn't realize Bucknum was on the right. Instinctively, Bucknum got off the power and steered hard to avoid a collision.
"I was hoping he'd make a mistake, but he held that fast line," Bucknum said. "Toward the end, I was just concerned with keeping a car under me."
Once clear of Bucknum, Hand used the remaining half dozen or so laps trying to catch Enoch. "Right after I passed Jeff, I got stuck behind a lapped car and I lost the draft," Hand said. "I just couldn't reel him in and then I got stuck behind more traffic toward the end."
Nevertheless, Hand knocked 6/10s of a second off his qualifying time, which even he admitted wasn't good enough to catch Enoch. "The lap times we were running in the race were amazing to me," Hand added.
None of the top three finishers-Enoch, Hand or Bucknum-had ever been to Road Atlanta, unlike 1997 Star Mazda Series (West) champion Tony Buffomante. Driving a car borrowed from Bob Hoppas-the same car Buffomante drove to SCCA's 1998 Valvoline Runoffs national Formula Mazda championship at Mid-Ohio-Buffomante's resume includes several noteworthy wins at the Braselton circuit. This weekend, however, the Chicago resident and Formula Cars East/Red Line Oil-sponsored driver was struggling to keep pace with the front-runners, finishing one position up in fourth from his fifth-place grid spot.
Bruno Lambert, a veteran Star Mazda competitor who co-drove a GT3 Porsche to second-place in class at this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona, finished fifth with his Microsoft/Cranium/BBR/Speedware Stacy Suspension Systems-prepared Formula Mazda after racing by Ryley and Sara Senske. Like Tumminelli, 20-year-old Senske was also pulling double-duty as a driver in the Women's GT Global event.
In the next five positions, Bernardo Martinez came from 14th to finish an impressive sixth, followed across the line by the recovered Ryley, Senske, a flu-ridden Alan Benson and one of the twin Roberts brothers, Keith (Kevin Roberts ran 23 laps before a miscue under the Michelin bridge sidelined him with three laps to go).
Besides the great racing up front, there were all sorts of terrific battles throughout the field, some of which generated a few close calls and ultimately contact between cars. Of particular interest were the races among Ryley, Kevin Schrantz, Benson, Paul Beregsaszy, Will Hill and Steve Hickham around the 16-lap mark. Unfortunately, with one lap remaining, Schrantz and Hickham crashed, sending both to the hospital. Hickham was
released after receiving attention for a cut tendon on his right hand, but because he was complaining of neck soreness, Schrantz was kept overnight for observation.
This race will be televised on espn2 on Friday, June 18, at 6:30 p.m. EST, with a second air date of June 22. Please double check your local listings to confirm dates and time of broadcast.
In the championship points race, Hand leads Bucknum 84 to 78 with leading rookie Enoch third at 77. Fourth in points is Lambert with 68, followed by Michael Potekhen at 61.
The third round of the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship is slated for June 26-27, at Pikes Peak Int'l Raceway. For more information about the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship, please contact series administrator Gary Rodrigues at (818) 909-5319.
Top 10 Point Standings
(After 2 of 6 rounds):
|15th||Nick St. Laurent|
Race Average Speed: 94.204 mph
Lap Leaders: Enoch 1-2, 4-26, Bucknam 3
Fastest Lap: 1:25.564 by Tim Enoch
Margin of Victory: 3.356 seconds