September 29  - Road Atlanta  (Round 6 Best Western Championship)

Martinez Holds Off Ryley For Second Consecutive Win

Bernardo Martinez further solidified his lead in the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship by claiming his second win and sixth top-four finish of the season. From pole position, Martinez led all 26 laps, holding off challenges from Grant Ryley, Jason LaPoint, Jeff Bucknum, Alex Figge and Scott Bradley.  Held in conjunction with ALMS' prestigious Petit LeMans event at Road Atlanta, the sixth round of the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship was conducted Friday afternoon under near-perfect weather conditions. 

The 34-car field included not only series regulars, but several impressive newcomers. Leading the pack of rookie drivers were the Hottmann brothers, 18-year-old Troy and 20-year-old Matt, who, along with 19-year-old Mike Stephens, broke into the top 10 during qualifying. Also of note was the substitution of Team Bucknum Racing team owner Jeff Bucknum driving Bryan Selby's car. Selby, along with Valley Motor Center's Matt Beardsley, decided to concentrate on the West Division championship where Selby leads Beardsley by 15 points. Beardsley is also juggling a drive at the Valvoline Runoffs at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which falls between the Star Mazda races at Road Atlanta and Laguna Seca.

Bucknum, who finished second in last year's Best Western Championship points tally, led all three timed practice sessions, but fell back to fourth behind Martinez, LaPoint and Ryley after making a few set-up changes. Portland winner Figge, front-runner Chantz Wade and rookie Matt Hottmann all shared the second spot to Bucknum in practice, until it came down to qualifying when Martinez posted quick time on the last lap. Both Ryley and LaPoint had held the top spot, in fact, LaPoint's best lap was also on the last circuit, but Martinez went just a little quicker--0.026sec quicker to be exact--despite a mid-session, off-course excursion at Turn Five.

The start was exciting as the 34 drivers safely raced through Road Atlanta's Turn One and up the hill. Martinez eventually took charge, but not before running side-by-side with LaPoint. "I knew Jason was going to be strong," said Martinez. "I didn't get the kind of start I wanted and Jason had a car length on me as we headed for Turn One. I think he broke a little earlier, though, and I was able to get underneath him."

LaPoint's start was impressive, but the outside line presented a challenge. "I didn't know if my tires were warm enough to make it on the outside at the speeds we were going," LaPoint explained. "Bernardo broke later and I let him go because I didn't want anything happening on the first lap." By the time the field streamed by start/finish to complete lap one, Martinez had opened up about a second and a half lead over LaPoint, Ryley, Bucknum, Bradley, Figge and Wade. It appeared the race, for the time being anyway, was for second with LaPoint holding off early challenges from Ryley and Bucknum. 

The race stayed green until lap 10 when officials brought out the pace car so safety crews could clear debris left from Pierre Ehret's damaged front wing and extract Tom Nastasi from the gravel pit at Turn Five. Racing resumed on lap 13 with Bradley slowing from fourth place with an errant clutch and a missed shift in Turn Seven. He eventually fell to 19th after a spectacular off-course excursion in Turn Three, but worked his way back up to fifth-sans a clutch-at the checker. Martinez got a good start, but Ryley did even better and passed LaPoint on lap 16 as the pair entered Turn One. "I tried to be patient and wait for the right opportunity," said Ryley, who lost a position to Bucknum at the start of the race. "Jason was strong on the straights and I couldn't hold him off, so I had to get a good run out of the chicane and make a run at him into Turn One."

With less than 10 laps remaining, Martinez' mission was to hold off the hard-charging Ryley, who was towing LaPoint, Bucknum, Figge, Wade, Stephens, Chris McMurry, Matt Hottmann and David Sterenberg. Unfortunately, Bucknum was in trouble as hints of smoke started to swirl out the back of his car. Eventually, race officials were forced to black flag him and he headed to the pits, relinquishing fourth place. After the race, Bucknum's crew discovered a rock had punctured the oil cooler.

Just about the same time Bucknum was exiting the race, officials called for the second full-course yellow to retrieve a disabled Scott Kusy from the middle of Turn Seven. Then Stephens, who had impressed all with his top 10 qualifying effort and seventh-place race position, went off course and hit hard enough to collapse the rear wing.

The track was cleared and the green was shown on lap 20 for what would be the race to the checker. With Ryley right behind him in second, Martinez knew he had to drive defensively. "I didn't get the kind of restart I wanted, but Grant did get a good start," said Martinez. "He was coming on strong."

While Martinez worked to maintain a margin, Ryley focused ahead on catching the leader. After the yellow, Ryley waited for his chance, but his race car wasn't cooperating. "I think I may have let the tires cool down a little too much," Ryley explained. "It got really loose and I had a bunch of understeer. I could stay with Bernardo, but I couldn't get by him. On those last five laps, I drove the wheels off that car." 

At the checker, Martinez crossed the line less than half a second ahead of Ryley. "I had a good car and it was good to have Jeff driving and get input from him," Martinez said. "Our whole package was better and I think it helped a lot to compare my driving data with Jeff's."
LaPoint finished third, about six seconds behind Ryley, but just three-tenths ahead of Figge. "I was getting looser every lap," LaPoint said. "By the end, the rears were gone. I just missed the set-up a little this time." Bradley worked hard to claim fifth and was followed across the line by Matt Hottmann. Wade was seventh, just ahead of series rookie John Intile. In his best finish of the season, Chad Block claimed ninth with McMurry rounding out the top 10.

In the Best Western points championship, Martinez maintains first place with 240 points. Bradley is still second at 200, and Ryley holds  third with 197. LaPoint is now in fourth at 189 after breaking the tie with Wade, who claims fifth at 181 points.

The seventh round of the Star Mazda Series Best Western Championship is Saturday, Oct. 14 at Laguna Seca, which is also the 10th round of the West Division 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. Cash prizes of more than $65,000 will be paid down to 10th place in the final point standings. 

The Speedvision telecast of the Road Atlanta race, featuring commentators Derek Daly and 1999 Best Western champion Joey Hand, will be shown Oct. 23, 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 or contact series administrator Gary Rodrigues at (810 909-5319. 

(2.54-mile road course)
Driver/Hometown (Sponsors/Team) qualifying time. All drive Star Formula
Mazdas with 13B Mazda rotary engines on Goodyear tires.

QUALIFYING: 1. Bernardo Martinez/Toledo, Ohio (3-Dimensional Services/Team  Bucknum Racing) 1:25.688; 2. Jason LaPoint/Portland, Ore. (Thrasher Skateboard Magazine, Trackmagic Karts/Valley Motor Center) 1:25.714; 3. Grant Ryley/Saratoga, Calif. (Cupertino Electric, Del Monaco Specialty Foods/World Speed Motorsports) 1:25.800; 4. Jeff Bucknum (Troon Golf/Team Bucknum Racing) 1:25.925; 5. Alex Figge/Boulder, Colo. (Zerowait, Bell Helmets, Seattime/World Speed Motorsports) 1:26.267; 6. Scott Bradley/Redwood City, Calif. (Polycom, Radvision/World Speed Motorsports) 1:26.316; 6. Chantz Wade/Waco, Texas (Shames Construction, Advanced Micro Devises/World Speed Motorsports) 1:26.561; 8. Troy Hottmann/Cottage Grove, Wis. (Rotary Rockets Formula Mazda Series/Lightspeed Motorsports) 1:26.930; 9. Matt Hottmann/Cottage Grove, Wis. (Rotary Rockets Formula Mazda Series/Lightspeed Motorsports) 1:27.132; 10. Mike Stephens/Sarasota, Fla. (Robert W. Baird & Co./Formula Cars East) 1:27.133; 11. Chris McMurry/Phoenix, Ariz. (Fairytale Brownies, Northern Trust Bank, Washburn Dev., McMurry Publishing & Advertising/Team Bucknum Racing) 1:27.193; 12. David Sterenberg/Phoenix, Ariz. (Stockbridge Capital/Star Mountain Racing) 1:27.254; 13. Pierre Ehret/Santa Rosa, Calif. (Flamingo Resort Hotel, Santa Rosa, Calif./Team Bucknum Racing) 1:27.311; 14. John Intile/Alpharretta, Ga. (ICI Dulux Paint Centers/Intile Racing) 1:27.553; 15. Chad Block/York, Pa. (Minolta, Autosporttuning/Valley Motor Center) 1:27.658; 16. Doug Peterson/Lake Orion, Mich. (3-Dimensional Services, Urgent Plastic Services/Formula Cars East) 1;28.049; 17. Dick Downs/St. James, Minn. (Hormel Foods, Olympic Foods/Eurosport Racing) 1:28.095; 18. Scott Kusy/Scottsdale, Ariz. (Troon Golf/Team Bucknum Racing) 1:28.104; 19. Victor Seaber/Raleigh, N.C. (XRDi/RDF Racing) 1:28.186; 20. Dan Weyland/Denver, Colo. (Western Eagle Racing/Eurosport Racing) 1:28.306; 21. Steve Lopez/Chandler, Ariz. (Speedvision, Botti Seats/Valley Motor Center) 1:28.518; 22. Robert Noell/Raleigh, N.C. (Robert Noell & Assoc./Formula Cars East) 1:28.521; 23. Jae Chung/Staten Island, N.Y. (Rotary Rockets Formula Mazda Series/Lightspeed Motorsports) 1:28.572; 24. Andrew Havas/Chapel Hill, N.C. ( Motorsports) 1:28.608; 25. Tom Nastasi/Stamford, Conn. (MacTank/Racer's Edge Motorsports) 1:29.096; 26. Ken Erb/Raleigh, N.C. (Velocity Motorsports) 1:29.303; 27. Glenn Cooper/Roswell, Ga. (BG Products/Coopersterini Racing) 1:29.727; 28. Tom Mabey/West Bountiful, Utah (Sahara Pro Planners & Builders, Larry H. Miller Automotive Group/Rocky Mountain Motorsports) 1:29.878; 29. Dan Tomlin II/Dallas, Texas (Lone Star Ranch/Texas Autosports) 1:30.004; 30. Robert Bramlage/Manhattan, Kan. (Rotary Rockets Formula Mazda Series/Lightspeed Motorsports) 1:30.017; 31. Ginni Swanton/Kirkland, Wash. (Speedware/Team Bucknum Racing) 1:30.529; 32. Larry DiBiase/Atlanta, Ga. (Glenn's Auto Restoration, Caniac Kitchens/Formula World Racing) 1:30.635; 33. Jack Morris/Greenville, S.C. (Morris Wireless Communications/Formula Cars East) 1:31.180; 34. Steve Golden/Jonesboro, Ark. (Texas Autosports) 1:32.086; 35. Bill Haney/Potomac, Md. (Racer's Edge) no time.

RACE (26 laps, 66.04 miles): 
1. Martinez, 26 laps; 2. Ryley; 3. LaPoint; 4. Figge; 5. Bradley; 6. M. Hottmann; 7. Wade; 8. Intile; 9. Block; 10. McMurry; 11. T. Hottmann; 12. Chung; 13. Downs; 14. Noell; 15. Seaber; 16. Peterson; 17. Erb; 18. Mabey; 19. Sterenberg; 20. Swanton; 21. Bramlage; 22. Tomlin II; 23. Weyland; 24. Cooper; 25. Golden; 26. Ehret, 25; 27. Nastasi, 22; 28. Bucknum, 20; 29. Stephens, 18; 30. Kusy, 16; 31. Lopez, 14; 32. Havas, 13; 33. DiBiase, 8; 34. Morris, 7; DNS Haney.

TIME OF RACE: 46.21.970s 
FASTEST RACE LAP: Ryley 1:26.631 (105.551mph) 
LAP LEADERS: Martinez 1-26


September 29  - Road Atlanta  (Round 6 Best Western Championship)
(After 6 of 8 rounds): 
1. Martinez, 240; 2. Bradley, 200; 3. Ryley, 197; 4. LaPoint, 189; 5. Wade, 181; 6. Figge, 172; 7. Sterenberg, 143; 8. Block, 132; 9. Peterson, 123; 10. Lopez, 117.

(After 6 of 8 rounds): 
1. Peterson, 97; 2. D. Downs, 77; 3. Mabey, 65; 4. Weyland, 63; 5. Choquette, 48.