Figge Races To Top Of Podium For First Pro Win
In Alex Figge's own words, his first career Star Mazda victory was "unbelievable." After leading the
last 18 of 32 laps around Portland International Raceway's scenic 1.944-mile road course, Figge's popular and well-deserved win came after
the World Speed Motorsports driver took over the lead following contact between leader Jason LaPoint and the then-second-placed car of Grant Ryley.
"Realistically, I was hoping for at least a podium finish," said the 19-year-old Figge, who in his first full season of Star Mazda
competition, is sponsored by Zerowait Software, Bell Helmets and Seattime.
"When I saw Grant and Jason come together, I knew I just had to get out of
The jostling among the top points leaders started in qualifying, where teams and drivers faced changing track conditions. It had sprinkled
just before the Sunday morning session, but the fast line on the track was
dry. Still, drivers struggled with set-up, as evidenced by several
front-runners--including Ryley--making wholesale changes to their race cars
in the pit lane. In the end, LaPoint, Ryley, Figge, points leader Bernardo
Martinez and Scott Bradley secured the top five positions.
A total of 42 cars posted qualifying times, including several newcomers as well as veteran, but not regular series drivers. Top runner
Dave Gaylord, of nearby Graham, Wash., was on hand to race at his "home" track and qualified 10th quick. Unfortunately, he won't make any more Star
Mazda races this season, instead concentrating on his 24 Hours of Daytona program. The Redmond, Wash.-based Aubeta Motorsports team was present in
full force, featuring leader Norm Hernandez; his son, Nathan; as well as Smokey Basler and Brad Drew working from under the Aubeta tent. Flat Out
Racing brought rookies Aaron Ogus, Phil Fogg and James Shaiman, who impressed all with his 16th-quick qualifying effort. Another rookie and
local Portland Spec Racer driver, Christopher Brown, joined Valley Motor Center for this hometown race, which also attracted Everett, Wash., driver
Chuck Helm. Last, but not least, series veteran Bob Hatle received a warm
welcome back to Star Mazda racing after missing the Mesa Marin and Sears Point races while recovering from major surgery.
The green was shown to a tidy line-up of Formula Mazdas with
LaPoint, Ryley and Figge breaking away from the anxious pack of cars--minus
seventh-quick qualifier Mike Potekhen and 26th-place starter Fogg--behind them. Potekhen barely completed the warm-up laps, fighting a misfiring
engine, and Fogg pulled off with mechanical problems as well. Unfortunately, the first race-related casualty was Team Bucknum's Chris
McMurry, who was carrying one of the two on-board camera cars for the Speedvision telecast (the other camera was riding with teammate Bryan
Selby). The battery cable on McMurry's car disconnected after he bumped a curb on the first lap and the car couldn't be restarted. Other early
departures included rookie Brown, who got hit from behind as the cars funneled through the chicane on the first lap, and West Division Masters
Series points leader Hatle.
With the exception of Selby, who fell back to 14th place from his
ninth-place starting position after an off-course evasive excursion, and Pierre
Ehret, who jumped from 17th to 12th on the first lap, the top 10 spots remained relatively intact for the opening 10 laps. Ryley, though,
was working LaPoint while Figge observed from third. As LaPoint came off Turn 11 onto the front straight to complete lap
14, Ryley closed fast, set to trail LaPoint into the chicane. LaPoint turned in for the right-hander, but Ryley dove in as well, making contact
with LaPoint. Both spun off course, with LaPoint faring the worst with collapsed rear suspension. Ryley collected his World Speed mount, but not
before Figge, Martinez, Chantz Wade, David Sterenberg, Bradley and another
12 cars raced by and displaced him to 18th place and eventually to the
pits. "I was on the curb when I got hit," said LaPoint, who admitted he
was keeping an eye on Ryley, but didn't expect a pass attempt that early inthe race.
I thought he'd stay there with so much time left. It's disappointing that it takes us both out of the championship."
Ryley immediately accepted responsibility for the contact, admitting he made a bad choice. "On the straight, I threw a fake like I was
going to the inside, but Jason held me off and it seemed he broke a little
early for the turn," Ryley explained. "All of a sudden I was catching him and past my usual braking point and I came off the brakes for a second.
That whole deal wasn't the right decision on my part."
Officials dispatched the pace car to clear LaPoint, picking up new leader
Figge. "I was watching them," said Figge, who's in his sophomore
year at the University of Colorado. "I had to lock up the brakes when I saw
Grant sliding across the track."
The race resumed on lap 18 with Figge towing Martinez, Wade, Sterenberg, Bradley and Ehret. Before the full-course yellow, however, Wade
had moved up from eighth to sixth on the start and then displaced Sterenberg for third on lap 12 as the pair raced into the first turn. "I
tried to set a good pace for myself," Wade said. "Right before the halfway
point, I radioed the crew for a lap count. The car got really loose and I couldn't believe we had 16 laps to go."
With the exception of one near-brush with the wall at the exit of Turn 12 on lap 20, Figge never flinched and held off Martinez to the
checker to claim victory by just over half a second. "Bernardo was making me nervous, especially because I thought we had three or four laps to go
when he was closing at the end," Figge said. On the victory podium, Alex's
father, Tom, celebrated with his son, and commented, "This win is almost as
good as Suzi's (Shinji) birthday party." (Shinji, who marked her 40th birthday at the track on Sunday, is the registrar for the both the Best
Western and West Division series.)
Martinez, who holds onto the Best Western points lead with his second-place finish at Portland, struggled with car set-up. "We worked on
it all weekend," said the Team Bucknum driver, who was racing with an annoying head cold. "We got lucky today."
Sterenberg, who today matched his career-best fourth-place Texas finish, recalled the two mistakes he made on the lap Wade got by for third.
"I was battling a dreadful oversteer and I almost lost it a couple times out there and Scott (Bradley) and Pierre (Ehret) would close up on me," the
Star Mountain Racing driver said. Ehret, who started 17th, claimed an impressive fifth-place finish by passing Bradley on the last lap. "We ran
into some traffic on the last lap and Scott drove a little too hard into Turn Five," Ehret said after his best finish of the season. "That gave me a
good run on him because he had to slow down and I passed him inside Turn Seven."
Bradley was understandably disappointed with his sixth-place finish. "This was my worst race of the year," said the 22-year-old World
Speed driver. "I would loose four car lengths on the straights. It was just
Rookie Scott Jenkins, who recently turned 18, finished seventh after a close call with Selby on the third lap. "I went off course while I
was side-by-side with Bradley, which sent Bryan into an evasive move," Jenkins explained. Even a little down on power and with a loose condition,
Jenkins was satisfied with his fourth top-10 finish.
Rounding out the top 10 was Gaylord, Masters points leader Doug Peterson and rookie Shaiman. "Luckily, our race was pretty uneventful,"
said Shaiman, who did admit he was struggling with the gearbox in the race.
"Honestly, I didn't feel like I was driving fast, but we went faster in
each session, so I'm happy." Shaiman plans to run the Las Vegas finale and
the full pro Star Mazda schedule next year.
In the Best Western points championship, Martinez maintains first place with 195 points. Bradley moves from fourth to second with 168. Ryley
is now third with 157, and Wade and LaPoint are tied for fourth at 152.
For West Division points, Selby is now leading over Matt Beardsley,
322 to 307. Bradley maintains third with 301 points, and Ryley and Sterenberg are tied for fourth with 252 points.
The sixth round of the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship is Friday, Sept. 29, at Road Atlanta, in conjunction with the Petite LeMans
event. The 10th round of the West Division race is Oct. 14, at Laguna Seca
(which is also the seventh round of the Best Western series). Both championships conclude Oct. 28, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway,
and the dual banquets will be held that evening at the Circus Circus Hotel
in Las Vegas. This year's Best Western champion will receive a 2001 Mazda
Miata, a $10,000 cash prize and a testing opportunity with BMW Team PTG.
World Speed Motorsports will also award a test in its pro Atlantic car to one of the top drivers, as selected by a committee at the conclusion of the
season. Cash prizes of more than $65,000 will be paid out to 10th place in
the final point standings.
The Speedvision telecast of the Portland race, featuring commentators Derek Daly and Dorsey Schroeder, will be shown Oct. 9, at 8
p.m. EDT; and again at midnight that same evening. Please check your local
listings to confirm the dates and airtimes. For more information about the Star Mazda Series Best Western
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 5, STAR MAZDA SERIES BEST WESTERN CHAMPIONSHIP
ROUND 9, STAR MAZDA SERIES WEST DIVISION
SUNDAY, SEPT. 10, 2000/ PORTLAND INT'L RACEWAY (1.944-mile road course)
Driver/Hometown (Sponsors/Team) qualifying time. All drive Star Formula
Mazdas with 13B Mazda rotary engines on Goodyear tires.
QUALIFYING: 1. Jason LaPoint/Portland, Ore. (Thrasher Skateboard Magazine, Trackmagic Karts/Valley Motor Center) 1:15.425; 2. Grant
Ryley/Saratoga, Calif. (Cupertino Electric, Del Monaco Specialty Foods/World Speed Motorsports) 1:16.054; 3. Alex Figge/Boulder, Colo.
(Zerowait, Bell Helmets, Seattime/World Speed Motorsports) 1:16.092;
4 Bernardo Martinez/Toledo, Ohio (3-Dimensional Services/Team Bucknum Racing)
1:16.529; 5. Scott Bradley/Redwood City, Calif. (Polycom, Radvision/World Speed Motorsports) 1:16.552; 6. David Sterenberg/Phoenix, Ariz.
(Stockbridge Capital/Star Mountain Racing) 1:16.575; 7. Mike Potekhen/Silverthorne, Colo. (Troon Golf, Twin Seasons Vacations, Sports
Car Ltd./Star Mountain Racing) 1:16.589; 8. Chantz Wade/Waco, Texas (Shames
Construction, Advanced Micro Devices/World Speed Motorsports) 1:16.608; 9.
Scott Jenkins/Portland, Ore. (A.G.G., PPTI Transport/Jenkins Racing) 1:16.681; 10. Dave Gaylord/Graham, Wash. (TheRaceNet.com, Amsoil) 1:16.770;
11. Bryan Selby/Alpine, Calif. (Troon Golf, Red Line Oil, A Graphics Solution/Team Bucknum Racing) 1:17.025; 12. Chris McMurry/Phoenix, Ariz.
(Fairytale Brownies, Northern Trust Bank, Washburn Dev., McMurry Publishing
& Advertising/Team Bucknum Racing) 1:17.375; 13. Chad Block/York, Pa. (Minolta,
Autosporttuning/Valley Motor Center) 1:17.473; 14. Matt Beardsley/Breckenridge, Colo. (Alpine Bank, Land Title/Valley Motor Center)
1:17.505; 15. Doug Peterson/Lake Orion, Mich. (3-Dimensional Services, Urgent Plastic Services/Formula Cars East) 1:17.519; 16. James
Shaiman/Seattle, Wash. (Flat Out Racing) 1:17.546; 17. Pierre Ehret/SantaRosa, Calif. (Flamingo Resort Hotel, Santa Rosa, Calif./Team Bucknum
Racing) 1:17.549; 18. Dick Downs/St. James, Minn. (Hormel Foods, Olympic
Foods/Eurosport Racing) 1:17.597; 19. Scott Kusy/Scottsdale, Ariz. (Troon Golf/Team Bucknum Racing) 1:17.858; 20. Will Hill/Alamo, Calif. (Valley
Motor Center) 1:18.058; 21. Brad Drew/Everett, Wash. (Coleman Outdoor
Products/Drew Racing) 1:18.156; 22. Aaron Ogus/Kirkland, Wash. (LapCritic/Flat Out Racing) 1:18.189; 23. Bryan Willman/Kirkland, Wash.
(Speedware/Team Bucknum Racing) 1:18.513; 24. Matt Downs/Butterfield, Minn.
(Hormel Foods, Olympic Foods/Eurosport Racing) 1:18.585; 25. Smokey Basler/Kent, Wash. (Spartan Electric, Aubeta Networks/3rd Gear Racing)
1:18.805; 26. Phil Fogg/Wilsonville, Ore. (Flat Out Racing) 1:18.926; 27. Bob
Hatle/Oceanside, Calif. (R.H. Racing) 1:18.941; 28. Ethan Hernandez/Seattle, Wash. (Aubeta Networks/Aubeta Motorsports) 1:18.951; 29.
Bob Negron/San Jose, Calif. (Raceland) 1:18.966; 30. Frank McCormick/San Francisco, Calif. (Onyx Pharmaceuticals/World Speed Motorsports) 1:18.985;
31. Dan Weyland/Denver, Colo. (Western Eagle Racing/Eurosport Racing)
1:19.045; 32. Michael Choquette/Santa Barbara, Calif. (Heitmann Appraisal
Group/Choquette Racing) 1:19.409; 33. Ginni Swanton/Kirkland, Wash. (Speedware/Team Bucknum Racing) 1:19.457; 34. Christopher Brown/Portland,
Ore. (www.cb-racing.com/Valley Motor Center) 1:19.460; 35. Norm Hernandez/Redmond, Wash. (Aubeta Networks/Aubeta Motorsports) 1:19.485; 36.
Dave McMillan/Pinyon, Calif. (HASA POOL Products/Sports Car Ltd.) 1:19.542;
37. Steve Lopez/Chandler, Ariz. (Speedvision, Botti Seats/Valley Motor Center) 1:19.553; 38. Tom Mabey/West Bountiful, Utah (Sahara Pro Planners &
Builders, Larry H. Miller Automotive Group/Rocky Mountain Motorsports) 1:19.865; 39. Rick Waddell/Edmonds, Wash. (Mbox Design, Northwest
Speedwerx/World Speed Motorsports) 1:20.143; 40. Chris Emanuel/Huntington Beach, Calif. (Airguard, Hawn/Valley Motor Center) 1:20.619; 41. Larry
Couture/Claremont, Calif. (City of Hope National Medical Center, Rudolph &
Sletten General Contractors/Team Hope Racing) 1:22.307; 42. Chuck Helm/Everett, Wash. (Everett Family Practice/Helm Racing) 1:19.899.
TIME OF RACE: 42m51.592s
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.549sec
LAP LEADERS: LaPoint 1-14; Figge 15-32
RACE AVERAGE SPEED: 87.086mph
FASTEST RACE LAP: Ryley 1:16.480 (91.506mph)