March 5, 2000 - Phoenix International Raceway

Potekhen Tops Podium In Exciting Season Opener

Despite morning showers that threatened both qualifying and the race, the opening event of the 2000 Star Mazda Series West Division and the Red Line Oil Oval Championship were completed ... just as the rain started to fall again. Utilizing PIR's 1-mile oval, officials and racers played cat-and-mouse with the weather, hoping the predicted storm system would stay away long enough to conduct the single-car qualifying session and then get in all 50 laps (it turned out to be 53, actually, to accommodate the "last-three-laps-under-green" oval rule).

As a matter of fact, during the race, light sprinkles forced stewards to throw the yellow flag on lap 11, putting the 22-car field behind Arizona Region's pace car (with guest driver Chuck West behind the wheel) for five laps until the cell passed. Luckily, from lap 17 to the checker, wet weather held off until Mike Potekhen claimed his first Star Mazda victory.

Potekhen, whose Formula Mazda background includes top-10 finishes in the last three championship years, ran Sunday's race with Phoenix-based Sports Car Ltd. Although the 20-year-old Silverthorne, Colo., native is focusing on other racing opportunities, the chance to compete at PIR in his new hometown was something he didn't want to pass up.

Potekhen and the Sports Car Ltd. team worked all weekend on car set-up, and made progress each session, but couldn't break into the top five ... until the race. "By race time, the car was perfect," Potekhen said, "and, then once we got going, it was just a matter of working my way up and not forcing my way through."

Series rookie Chantz Wade, of Waco, Texas, claimed the pole at an impressive 28.697 (just 0.154sec off Chris Neville's 1998 pole time and 0.130sec off World Speed teammate Grant Ryley's 1999 quick time). Team Green grad and Team USA finalist Brian Selby, of Alpine, Calif., further impressed the new Team Bucknum Racing team with quick times in Saturday's second and third practice sessions, and then posted the second-quick--just 0.101sec slower--qualifying time behind Wade. Ryley slipped in a fast time during qualifying to finally claim third on the grid. In the end, the top 10 drivers set times within half a second of each other.

Forging ahead while ominous clouds loomed overhead, the cars were gridded and sent on their pace laps to start the race. Right on schedule, the green was shown with Wade and Selby leading the charge into Turn One. Everyone made it through safely, but at the line, Selby was leading S3's Bernardo Martinez, Valley Motor Center's Matt Beardsley, Wade, Ryley, Potekhen, Tophie Stewart, Scott Bradley and Chris McMurry. With the exception of Beardsley's move past Martinez to claim second on lap three, the order remained intact until the yellow was shown on lap 11 for the rain.

On lap 16, it was safe to resume racing and Beardsley made his move for the lead as he drafted Selby into Turn Three. "I really got a good pull on that first restart," said Beardsley, who had lost radio contact with the Valley team while under caution. The downhill ski racer opened a slight margin, but Selby stayed close while Potekhen moved into third ahead of Martinez to pursue the leaders. On lap 24, Potekhen was close enough to Beardsley to move inside as the pair entered Turn One. Potekhen came out in the lead, but Beardsley stayed close. "Mike and I are friends, and we talked before the race about what we would do if it came down to the two of us leading," Beardsley said. "I think because we both ran a good race, it worked out great for both of us."

With Potekhen out front, Beardsley worked to first hold off Selby and then Martinez, who re-claimed third on lap 42. At the same time, World Speed teammates Ryley and Wade were battling over fifth place behind Selby, and actually touched as they raced side-by-side into Turn One. Luckily, both recovered and the contact did nothing more than open the gap between them and Selby in fourth. Another battle continued over seventh among McMurry, Bradley and David Sterenberg with McMurry eventually racing ahead to claim the position.

The last yellow was shown on lap 45 for a spin by Taylor Fletcher, of San Clemente, Calif., and the pace car was dispatched to round-up the field. In Star Mazda oval rules, the last three laps are run under green, so when the race resumed on lap 51, the checker was moved to lap 53 for the finish.

"That last yellow didn't really hurt us because we were good on the restarts," Potekhen said. "In the end, working traffic and not thinking about the rain were important." In the championship calculations, Beardsley earned first-place points by virtue of Potekhen deciding not to enter the series (only those registered for the series earn points). Top 10 points in both the Star Mazda Series West Division and Red Line Oil Oval Championship are listed below.

The second round of the Star Mazda Series West Division will be held April 30, at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in conjunction with an SCCA event. The next oval race is June 3, at Irwindale, with the finale in the three-event Red Line Oil Oval Championship slated for July 8, at Mesa Marin.


Grid.jpg (265057 bytes) Podium 2.jpg (254362 bytes)


Round 1 - Red Line Oil Oval Championship Official Results
Pos Driver Laps Laps Led Difference Fast Lap
1 Mike Potekhen 53 24 - 53 - - - 28.844
2 Matt Beardsley 53 16 - 23 0.271 28.872
3 Bernard Martinez 53 0.502 28.824
4 Bryan Selby 53 1-15 0.774 28.791
5 Chantz Wade 53 1.390 28.728
6 Grant Ryley 53 1.708 28.828
7 Scott Bradley 53 4.080 29.090
8 Chris McMurry 53 4.423 28.767
9 David Sterenberg 53 4.582 28.945
10 Pierre Ehret 53 6.146 29.147
11 Tophie Stewart 53 6.521 29.051
12 Chad Block 53 9.195 29.280
13 Bob Hatle 53 19.753 29.263
14 Alex Figge 52 1 Lap 29.594
15 Dave McMillan 52 1.363 30.162
16 Bryan Willman 52 11.104 30.337
17 Chris Emanuel 51 2 Laps 30.494
18 Ginni Swanton 51 8.391 30.754
19 Larry Couture 51 9.218 30.902
20 Taylor Fletcher 50 3 Laps 29.467
21 Brian Reuter 50 8.345 31.134
22 Ray Neveau 29 24 Laps 30.630


Round 1 - Red Line Oil Oval Championship and West Coast Series Points

(After 1 of 12 rounds)
1. Beardsley, 44; 2. Martinez, 40; 3. Selby, 37; 4. Wade, 35; 5. Ryley, 32;
6. Bradley, 30; 7. McMurry, 29; 8. Sterenberg, 28; 9. Ehret, 27; 10. Stewart, 26.

(After 1 of 3 rounds)
1. Beardsley, 20; 2. Martinez, 16; 3. Selby, 14; 4. Wade, 12; 5. Ryley, 11;
6. Bradley, 10; 7. McMurry, 9; 8. Sterenberg, 8; 9. Ehret, 7; 10. Stewart, 6.

(After 1 of 12 rounds)
1. Hatle, 20; 2. Emanuel, 16; 3. Fletcher, 14.