March 19 , 1999 - Sebring International Raceway (Round 1 Best Western Championship)
Hand Takes Advantage Of Bucknum's Start Miscue

Joey Hand took advantage of polesitter Jeff Bucknum's missed shift on the start to jump into the lead and then win the first round of the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship at Sebring International Raceway, March 19.

Hand, who was sharing the front row with Bucknum, led all 18 laps of the race, which was a support event for Professional Sports Car's Superflo 12 Hours at Sebring. The race ran under green conditions for all but two laps, leaving Bucknum with little opportunity to catch up to Hand, who opened more than a 4.5sec margin at the checker.

"I was thinking about how I was going to set up the start," said Bucknum, who is the 26-year-old son of Formula 1, Indy car, Trans-Am and sports car legend Ronnie Bucknum. "I did get a good jump, but I missed the shift to second and Joey was right there."

An impressive field of 36 drivers qualified for the opening round of the new six-race Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship, which will be televised on espn2 and award the champion a model year 2000 Mazda Miata as well as distribute more than $100,000 in cash and contingency prizes. The Sebring event will be broadcast on May 7 (of course, check your local listings to confirm dates and times!).

The 20-year-old Hand, of Sacramento, and 26-year-old Bucknum, of Las Vegas, were two of three drivers to break into the 2-minute, 10-second range during qualifying and were joined by series rookie Tim Enoch, of Mission Viejo, Calif. Enoch, the 1997 Skip Barber Formula Dodge champion, fell back to eighth after spinning on laps three and seven, but worked his way up to fifth at the checker despite driving without a right-front wing and a misaligned left.

"In the morning warm-up the car was pushing so we made some changes," said the 26-year-old Enoch, who is sponsored by Amerinet and Valley Motor Center. "For some reason, maybe because it warmed up, it pushed worse in the race and was really a handful."

In contrast, Hand's Emmick Racing Karts/Red Line Oil/Maaco Auto Painting/Stacy Suspension Systems car (the same car, by the way, that Ian Lacy drove to the 1998 Star Mazda Series championship) was almost flawless as evidenced by his fastest race lap time, which was just 0.478 off his qualifying effort.

"I knew it was going to be a really close race, so I was surprised when Jeff slowed on the start," said Hand, whose first Star Mazda win came at Pike's Peak in 1998. "After that, I concentrated on running some hot laps and holding my margin."

Bucknum, who recently moved to Las Vegas to instruct at the Derek Daly Academy, recovered very quickly, pushing his Shames Construction/Red Line Oil Formula Mazda in an effort to catch Hand and keep Michael Potekhen, of Silverthorne, Colo., Bruno Lambert, Brussels, Belgium, Grant Ryley, Saratoga, Calif., Alan Benson, Calgary, Canada, Tim Magrath, Plano, Texas, and Sara Senske, Kennewick, Wash., behind him ... and it wasn't easy. "Our car was good eventually, but Joey's was good right away," Bucknum said.

There were a couple incidents in the opening laps besides Enoch's miscue with the lone full-course yellow displayed on lap 10 when Ryley collided with the wall on the back straight. Luckily, he was OK, but the pace car was dispatched to round up the field and pick up the leader Hand. Between Hand and Bucknum, however, was a lapped car.

When the green came out again, Hand took off, but Bucknum was stuck until they passed the start line. "Yeah, it was frustrating because I couldn't get as close to Joey as I wanted to be on the restart," said Bucknum, whose first Star Mazda victory was the finale race at P.I.R. last year.

With Hand comfortably out front and Bucknum safely in second, one of the best battles on the track-especially in the closing laps-was between 19-year-old Potekhen and series veteran Lambert, who was also driving in the 12-Hour event with teammate Mike Conte (another Formula Mazda graduate).

"I tried to be smooth and focus, especially when Bruno was pushing me hard," said Potekhen, who drives with support from Sports Car Ltd., Shifty Business and Twin Season Vacations.

"I think I could have gotten away from Mike, but my car was getting harder to drive as the race went on," said Microsoft/Carnium/BBR/Speedware-sponsored Lambert.

At the checker, Potekhen clipped Lambert by 1.168sec, with the recovered Enoch crossing the line in fifth. Senske, the 20-year-old Lynx Racing driver, stayed close to the lead pack to finish sixth. Newcomers Paul Beregszaszy, of Phoenix, and John Gore, of Sorrento, Fla., were seventh and eighth, respectively, with Texas Autosports driver Magrath ninth and Quad Boenker, of Weatherford, Texas, rounding out the top 10.

The next round of the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship is slated for April 17, at Road Atlanta. For more information about the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship, please contact series administrator Gary Rodrigues at (818) 909-5319 or check out the Star Mazda Series website at -Jane Anderson


Qualifying: 1. Jeff Bucknum, 2:10.288; 2. Joey Hand, 2:10.497; 3. Tim Enoch, 2:10.848; 4. Bruno Lambert, 2:12.166; 5. Grant Ryley, 2:12.196; 6. Alan Benson, 2:13.068; 7. Sara Senske, 2:13.314; 8. Michael Potekhen, 2:13.373; 9. Kevin Schrantz, 2:13.762; 10. Jim Hall II, 2:14.043; 11. Tim Magrath, 2:14.069; 12. Paul Beregszaszy, 2:14.236; 13. Bernardo Martinez, 2:14.319; 14. Pierre Ehret, 2:14.349; 15. Johnny Jernigan, 2:14.406; 16. John Gore, 2:14.555; 17. Quad Boenker, 2;15.282; 18. Joel Janco, 2:16.411; 19. Jennifer Tumminelli, 2:16.591; 20. Robert Lloyd, 2:16.701; 21. Dick Downs, 2:16.707; 22. Steve Lopez, 2:16.905; 23. Dan Weyland, 2:17.731; 24. Rick Bernard, 2:17.835; 25. Mylon Stockton, 2:18.019; 26. Tom Mabey, 2:18.851; 27. Ray Curry, 2:18.925; 28. Stephen Cook, 2:19.139; 29. Doug Peterson, 2:19.832; 30. Keith Field, 2:19.865; 31. Wally Dyer, 2:20.152;32. Tom Beattie, 2:20.164; 33. Dale Vandenbush, 2:20.227; 34. Barry Porter, 2:20.653; 35. Jerry Klyop, 2:21.796; 36. Mark Higgins, 2:21.846; DNQ Jack Morris, Ken Erb.

Top 10 Point Standings (After 1 of 6 rounds):
1. Hand, 44; 2. Bucknum, 41;3. Potekhen, 37; 4. Lambert, 34; 5. Enoch, 32;
6. Senske, 30; 7.Beregszaszy, 29; 8. Gore, 28; 9. Magrath, 27; 10. Boenker, 26.

Finishing Order
1st Joey Hand
2nd Jeff Bucknam
3rd Michael Potekhen
4th Bruno Lambert
5th Tim Enoch
6th Sara Senske
7th Paul Beregszaszy
8th John Gore
9th Tim MaGrath
10th Quad Boenker
11th Pierre Ehret
12th Kevin Schrantz
13th Jim Hall
14th Mylon Stockton
15th Dale Vandenbush
16th Joel Janco
17th Dan Weyland
18th Tom Mabey
19th Mark Higgins
20th Rick Bernard
21st Tom Beattie
22nd Keith Field
23rd Jennifer Tumminelli
24th Jerry Klyop
25th Dick Downs
26th Stephen Cook
27th Alan Benson
28th Bernardo Martinez
29th Ray Curry
30th Steve Lopez
31st Grant Ryley
32nd Doug Peterson
33rd Wally Dyer
Time of Race: 45:48.582
Race Average Speed: 87.230 mph
Lap Leaders: Joey Hand 1-17
Fastest  Lap: 2:10.975
Margin of Victory:  4.524