|August 14 , 1999 - Thunderhill Raceway Park|
|Hand Wins In S3 Podium Sweep At
SATURDAY, AUGUST 15, 1999, THUNDERHILL PARK--From the pole, Joey Hand won his fifth race in the Star Mazda Series West Division championship, leading Stacy Suspension System (S3) teammates Alan Benson and Tophie (short for Christopher) Stewart to the checker. Hand, 20, jumped into an early lead and was immediately challenged by second-fast qualifier Tom Enoch, but eventually pulled away to more than a 13-second lead after Enoch spun off course in the Turn Eight/Nine sequence of the challenging 3-mile road course.
"I saw Tim in my mirrors, but I knew after one lap that I had a good car, so I
wanted run a couple qualifying laps and try to get away from him," Hand said.
That strategy worked until lap three when officials were forced to a full-course yellow condition for two off-course excursions. S3s Bruno Lambert and World Speed's Frank McCormick were both missing even before the 21-car field completed the first lap, so emergency crews were dispatched to retrieve the drivers and their damaged race cars. Luckily, both were unharmed. Lambert, however, had been fighting a sinus infection all weekend and was never feeling 100 percent. He also had to start from the last position, per series qualifying rules, because he changed tires for the race.
Hand's margin was now more than five seconds, but the battle for second was just
heating up among Benson, Stewart, Jeff Bucknum, Brandon Peterson and Matt Beardsley.
Missing from this group was Michael Potekhen, who was running in seventh, but made an
early pit stop in an attempt to repair the muffler on his Sports Car Ltd.-prepared racer.
On the start, Potekhen was apparently rear-ended and then ran off course at Turn One--both
of which may have cracked the exhaust system. He re-joined in 12th and proceeded to charge
back through the field. Also making a stop was Sara Senske, whose Lynx Racing/S3 car had
developed a push she hoped the team could remedy in the pits while the race was under
Back up front, the top three remained intact with Hand steadily increasing his lead
over Benson and Stewart. Bucknum, however, was struggling with an ill-handling race car
that was missing its right-front wing from a start mishap. He was falling back through the
field and eventually pitted on lap 14--not to replace the wing, but to tighten a loose
left-rear wheel nut. Bucknum, who was driving teammate's Pierre Ehret's car this weekend,
admitted he missed a shift on the start, which may have caused part of an accordion effect
Perhaps the best race on the track was between S3 teammates Benson and Stewart, who
were both intent on being the first to follow Hand to the checker. The pair ran close for
14 laps with Benson leading all but one lap when Stewart snuck by to claim second. Benson
retorted with a pass in Turn 10 that stuck to the finish.
"Lapped traffic toward the end made things kind of interesting," Benson
admitted. "I had trouble getting by and Tophie was there to take advantage," the
19-year-old Canadian resident added. "I was nervous the whole time," said
16-year-old Stewart. "My hands were tingling I was hanging on so tight."
With less than five laps to go and barring any bad luck, Hand was in control of the race and Benson and Stewart looked set to make their first podium appearances. Enoch, however, had charged back up to fourth, relegating Peterson to fifth. Potekhen also worked his way back up through the field, finishing a respectable sixth, despite his lap-four pit stop.
In Star Mazda Series West Division Championship point standings with four races remaining, Hand still holds the lead with 321 points. Enoch is second at 298 with Bucknum third at 280. Potekhen and Peterson are tied in fourth with 260 points each.
Star Mazda Series West Division Championship
Race Average Speed: 93.536 mph
Lap Leaders: Hand 1-20
Fastest Lap: Hand, 1:46.398
Margin of Victory: 13.357 seconds