|May 31, 1999 - Phoenix International Raceway|
Marks First Oval Race With Victory
Tim Enoch's first win in the Star Mazda Series West Division Championship also marked his first oval race experience. Coming from fourth in the 22-car field, Enoch led all but five of the 50 racing laps for the feature event that was held in conjunction with NASA's Arizona Region (National Auto Sport Association) Memorial Day pro race weekend.
Enoch, running under the watchful eye of Valley Motor Center crew chief Ron Roland, quickly found himself leading the pack when polesitter Grant Ryley hesitated after the green flew.
"I saw Joey (Hand) was looking to swoop around both Grant and Sara (Senske), so I just tucked in and tried to follow him," Enoch said.
Ryley, despite a slight miscue on the start, impressed all throughout the weekend, posting top-of-the-chart times in three of the six on-track sessions. The World Speed driver's best time-a 28.335 for an average speed of 127.052mph-was the fastest and came on lap 15 of the race. Unfortunately, while battling Valley Motor Center's Brandon Peterson for fourth with four laps to go, the pair collided in Turn Four, sidelining both drivers.
For the most part, Enoch avoided the majority of the race's drama, but he did admit the final 10 laps were the most intense as second-placed Michael Potekhen was eating away at Enoch's cushion. Potekhen, running out of the Phoenix-based Sports Car Ltd. racing stable, was turning lap times just a tick quicker then Enoch and was definitely closing in on the leader.
"I really didn't want that second yellow," said Potekhen, who had impressively moved up from eighth on the grid to challenge the leader. "I wanted it to stay green because the car was getting better as it heated up."
For Jeff Bucknum--who challenged Enoch in the early stages of the race--as well as Ryley and Peterson, just forgetting the last four laps of the race won't be easy. After Ryley's and Peterson's mishap, Bucknum was the next victim of racing's bad luck when his World Speed mount sputtered to a stop on the back straight ... out of fuel and out of third place. For Stacy Suspension Systems driver Sara Senske, however, those last four laps catapulted her from sixth to third.
"I had a really good car, good enough to win the race," said second-fast qualifier Senske. "It went into a bit of a push as the race went on, but I was able to stay with those guys and take advantage when something happened. I was ready."
Finishing fourth was championship points leader Joey Hand, who had fallen back to seventh from his third-place starting position when the first full course yellow came out on lap 15. The incident in Turn Two involved Bruno Lambert, Paul Beregsaszy and Darren Millar, and sidelined all three drivers and put the field under caution until lap 29. Hand avoided this melee, but couldn't shake strong-running Matt Beardsley or newcomer Tophie (short for Christopher) Stewart. In the end, Hand was another benefactor of the Ryley/Peterson collision, which elevated the Stacy Suspension System driver to fourth at the checker.
Both fifth- and sixth-place finishers were elated. Beardsley, now driving from under the Valley Motor Center canopy, moved up from ninth to fifth in one of the best drives of his Star Mazda Series career. Benson, who was piloting a car borrowed from Rich Thorner's Sports Car Ltd. stable, came from 19th on the grid to finish sixth. The 19-year-old Canadian driver crashed his primary Stacy Suspension System car in an earlier practice session, but shook off the bad luck to register a top 10 performance in the race.
Stewart, veteran Star Mazda drivers Taylor Fletcher and Chris Emanuel, and San Jose's Brian Reuter rounded out the top 10 finishers.
In the championship points race, Hand now leads Enoch 79 to 72. Potekhen moves up to third with 71 points, followed by Benson and Senske, who are tied for fourth with 62 points.
The third round of the Star Mazda Series West Division Championship--held in conjunction with a co-sanctioned Cal Club/San Diego Region SCCA National--is slated for June 13, at Willow Springs Int'l Raceway. For more information about the Star Mazda Series West Division Championship, please contact series administrator Gary Rodrigues at (818) 909-5319.
Top 10 Point Standings
(After 2 of 12 rounds):
Race Average Speed: 84.408 mph
Lap Leaders: Enoch 1-28, 34-61; Bucknam 29-33
Fastest Lap: Ryley, 28.355
Margin of Victory: 0.303 seconds