|March 31, 2000 - Lowes Motor Speedway (Round 1 Best Western Championship)|
Martinez Claims Win In Thrilling Dash To The Checker
On the last lap, Bernardo Martinez overtook Jason LaPoint on the high banks of Lowe's Motor Speedway, between Turns Three and Four, for a photo finish to the checker. Official timing split the pair by a scant 0.045sec, with Martinez claiming the edge and his first Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship victory.
The 30-lap race on the 2.25-mile road course was held in conjunction with Professional Sports Car Racing's Grand Prix of Charlotte and will be televised on Speedvision, April 24 at 8 p.m., EDT, 9 p.m. PST.
Series rookie LaPoint, of Woodburn, Ore., actually found himself in the lead on lap 23 when several of the front-runners misjudged the restart following a full-course caution for an incident involving David Sterenberg, of Phoenix, Ariz. From eighth, LaPoint, who'd started the race second from last on the grid, catapulted into the lead when the green came out, with Martinez in hot pursuit. With just seven laps left to the finish, Martinez hounded LaPoint until the pair entered Turn Three and Martinez went to the high side.
"That high line was the best way to go," said Martinez, who instructs at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Derek Daly Academy. "I knew my only chance was to get a run on him as we exited Turn Four."
LaPoint raced side-by-side with Martinez to finish second. Chantz Wade, of Waco, Texas, recovered from his own shaky restart to finish third. Rounding out the top five were front-row qualifier Grant Ryley, of Saratoga, Calif., and Redwood City, Calif., resident Scott Bradley, who maintained his fifth-place starting position.
Team Green Academy and Team USA finalist Bryan Selby, who drives with the new Team Bucknum Racing group, captured the pole Friday morning after sitting atop two of the three previous timed practice session sheets. By the qualifying session, however, Star Mazda race officials had removed the pesky chicane from the entrance to Turn Three and times dropped more than a second and a half. It was, technically, a new track for everyone, which most agreed was also a safer track for racing (the chicane, however, was utilized for the other groups racing this weekend). World Speed's Ryley, who was quickest in the last practice session on Thursday, joined Selby on the front row. Behind them lined up Martinez and series rookie Wade.
As the 29-car field exited Turn Four, the green was shown and Selby jumped into the lead with Martinez, Ryley, Wade and Valley Motor Center's Matt Beardsley in hot pursuit. Selby looked strong, pulling out a slight margin over Martinez until lap seven when a full-course caution was shown for Pierre Ehret, who had spun into the tire barrier at Turn Two. On lap 10, the race resumed with Selby still in the lead, but Beardsley climbed into second ahead of Wade and Martinez. Unfortunately, the race came under yellow for the second time when Chris McMurry's slide along the barrier in Turn Three ended in the tire wall. When the race got back underway on lap 14, Selby was comfortably out front. Meanwhile, Beardsley, Wade and Martinez battled hard until lap 19 when Martinez got by Selby to assume the lead just as the course went yellow again, this time for the incident involving Stockbridge Capital-sponsored Sterenberg.
After four laps under yellow, the green was shown on lap 24 ... and this is when things got really interesting. As the field exited Turn Four for the front straight, some of the drivers misjudged the green and had to lift to avoid jumping the start. When those drivers checked up, others got off the gas as well, but LaPointe, who had come from 28th on the grid after a shifting fork problem in qualifying, was ready. In the right gear when the green actually flew, he was in the lead by the time the cars passed start/finish. "Ron (Roland, Jason's crew chief from Valley Motor Center) said 'green' and I floored it," said the 22-year-old go-kart champion, whose Star Mazda season is being sponsored by "Thrasher Skateboard Magazine" and Trackmagic Karts. "Coming up through the field was a challenge, though. I was actually being pretty cautious and the yellows helped me because I think I just had better restarts."
Wade was one of the unlucky victims of the last re-start miscue as he fell from third to eighth. "I figured I jumped too much and put my hand out and saw eight cars by me," said the 24-year-old Shames Construction, Ken Kuchar and World Speed-sponsored driver. Selby also lost positions, dropping from second to sixth, and then back to ninth with mechanical troubles.
Martinez, however, recovered well after losing the lead and falling back to third. When Beardsley stepped aside with a stubborn gearbox, Martinez had seven laps left to chase down LaPoint. With two laps left, however, LaPoint's motor sputtered, signaling low fuel. On the last lap, Martinez took advantage of LaPoint's predicament and powered to the checker.
Luckily for LaPoint, he had enough of a cushion to hold onto second. In fact, Wade finished third, nearly three seconds behind. By a scant 0.007sec, Ryley beat 22-year-old, World Speed driver Scott Bradley to claim fourth.
There were several outstanding drives, including that of Steve Lopez, who started last after his qualifying times were disallowed because of a technical infraction. The Speedvision and Botti Seats-sponsored driver made steady progress through the field to finish a respectable eighth behind Quad Boenker and Masters competitor Doug Peterson. Rounding out the top 10 were Selby and another Masters driver, Ken DeNault. In the championship calculations, Martinez is first with 44 points and LaPoint is second at 40 (top 10 points are listed below). In the Masters Series (drivers aged 45 and older), Peterson is first with 14 points and DeNault is second at 12.
The second round of the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship will be held July 22, at Sears Point Raceway in conjunction with another American LeMans event. For more information about the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship or West Division championship, please log on to the Star Mazda Series website at www.starmazda.com or contact series administrator Gary Rodrigues at (818) 909-5319. --Jane Anderson
Round 1, Star Mazda Series Best Western
Championship MARCH 31, 2000/LOWE'S MOTOR SPEEDWAY, Charlotte, N.C. (2.25-mile road course)
All drive Star Formula Mazdas powered by Mazda 13B rotary motor using Goodyear tires.
RACE RESULTS: 1. Martinez, 30; 2. LaPoint; 3.
Wade; 4. Ryley; 5. Bradley; 6. Boenker; 7. Peterson; 8. Lopez; 9. Selby; 10. DeNault; 11.
Havas; 12. Rose; 13. Cook; 14. Downs; 15. Pestotnik; 16. Garner; 17. Mabey; 18. Dan
Weyland; 19. Swanton; 20. Morris; 21. Block; 22. Pestotnik; 23/NR Figge, 29; 24/NR Kusy;
25/NR Beardsley, 28; 26/NR Noell, 27; 27/NR Sterenberg, 19; 28/McMurry, 11; 29/NR Ehret,
STAR MAZDA SERIES BEST WESTERN CHAMPIONSHIP TOP 10 POINT STANDINGS
(After 1 of 8 rounds):
1. Martinez, 30; 2. LaPoint, 28; 3. Wade, 26; 4. Ryley, 24; 5. Bradley, 22; 6. Boenker, 0; 7. Peterson, 18; 8. Lopez, 16; 9. Selby, 15; 10. DeNault, 12.