Laguna Seca: AWR race notes

AWR Finishes Second, Third and Fourth at Laguna Seca Saturday; Pecorari Earns Second in Championship And Rookie of the Year Honors MONTEREY, Calif., Oct. 15 - Andersen Walko Racing concluded its first full season of Star Mazda action by once...

AWR Finishes Second, Third and Fourth at Laguna Seca Saturday; Pecorari Earns Second in Championship And Rookie of the Year Honors

MONTEREY, Calif., Oct. 15 - Andersen Walko Racing concluded its first full season of Star Mazda action by once again dominating the podium positions at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca here Saturday.

Drivers of cars fielded by the team, which is located in North Versailles, Pa. and Fairfield, N.J., finished second, third and fourth in the race. The driver who finished fourth, Robbie Pecorari of Aston, Pa., ended up second overall in the national championship and also earned the prestigious Rookie of the Year award for his performances in the SAI Hydaulics-sponsored car.

AWR's Jonathan Klein of Long Grove, Ill. recorded his best finish of the year by coming in second on Saturday, while Graham Rahal of New Albany, Ohio recorded yet another solid podium finish to place third. Earlier in the day Rahal qualified second and Klein qualified third.

The team's fourth driver, Pablo Donoso of Santiago, Chile, was involved in an accident early in the event and didn't finish this one, although he, Pecorari and Donoso were all race winners during the 12-race season.

With his fourth-place finish on Saturday to Raphael Matos's eighth-place finish, Pecorari gained seven points on the Brazilian to cut Matos's advantage to just 11 points for the season in the fight for the championship. Unofficially Matos ended up with 452 points to Pecorari's 441 for the year. The polesitter and winner of Saturday's race, Canada's James Hinchcliffe, was third unofficially with 433 points. Rahal ended up in fourth place for the season with 370 points. Donoso was ninth and Klein finished 13th.

Pecorari won two races (Pikes Peak and the September Road Atlanta race) and had one pole and seven podium finishes. Rahal was victorious at Portland, Ore., and had six podium finishes. Donoso won one of the races at Infineon and had three podium finishes. The top three drivers in the final point standings completed every single lap possible, and Pecorari and Hinchcliffe finished in the top 10 in all 12 events.

Saturday's race was peculiar. It ended up being a timed event of 45 minutes, as five yellows caused only 21 laps to be recorded in that time period instead of the scheduled 28. Changes to some of the 11 turns on the 2.238-mile road course and the addition of more gravel in the gravel traps to accommodate the motorcycle events held here played havoc to the Star Mazda set, as a lot of time was lost retrieving cars mired in the gravel after they went off course. Momentum was non-existent. There were 13 yellow-flag laps and only eight green-flag laps, and the longest run of green was the four circuits from lap seven through lap 10. The only other green-flag laps were laps four, 13 and 14 and lap 19.

Hinchcliffe earned the pole in a wet qualifying session on Saturday morning, although the weather was fine for the race Saturday afternoon. He led every lap.

Rahal, who qualified second in the Bobby Rahal Automotive Group No. 12, which is also sponsored by Bosch, Renier Construction and Norwalk Furniture, ran in second place until lap 20. He dropped to third at that point after an altercation with the driver who had been third, Michael Potekhen, in turn two. That vaulted Klein up to second for the finish with his car, which is sponsored by Nexus Distribution Corp., Midwest Steel & Services, Ironclad Performance Wear and ProStar. Rahal just lost that one spot and still placed third.

Pecorari started ninth. He passed about a car a lap when the green was waving until he got up to sixth on lap 11, right behind Matos. Matos got shuffled back a bit on lap 14 to move Pecorari up to fifth, and the Rahal/Potekhen tangle advanced him to fourth for the checkered.

Donoso ran in 12th until he and Sean Guthrie tangled on lap eight. The damage to Donoso's Cristal Beer entry was too much for it to continue. Since the accident occurred so early, Donoso was shown in 38th spot overall in the final rundown for the 41-car field.

Saturday's race was part of the Monterey Sports Car Championships, supporting the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) headliner. The Star Mazda series is presented by Goodyear.

SPEED covers all the events on a tape-delayed basis. The Sept. 3 race from Mosport is scheduled to be shown at 1 p.m. on Oct. 23. The Sept. 30 race from Road Atlanta, which is one not to miss, will air at 5 p.m. on Oct. 30. Saturday's race from Laguna Seca, another one not to miss, is supposed to air at 1 p.m. on Nov. 6. All times are Eastern and all dates should be confirmed by one's local listings or speedtv.com.

Andersen Walko Racing is one of the premier formula car teams in North America. For more information please see andersenwalko.com, starmazda.com, americanlemans.com, laguna-seca.com and restartcommunications.com or call (973) 244-1900. The drivers' Web sites are located at robbiepecorari.com, jonathankleinracing.com, grahamrahal.com and pablodonoso.com.

Quotes follow:

Robbie Pecorari: "It was good, but there were just too many yellows. I went wheel-to-wheel with Matos for awhile. We both knew that if we took each other out the championship would have gone to Hinchcliffe, and we didn't want that, so there wasn't too much contact.

"You just couldn't get a good green-flag run going. But my car was good. Basically every green-flag lap I passed a car. If there had been a bunch of green-flag laps we could have gone for the lead.

"It was a good year. We had a cracked tub at the first Atlanta race, and that really cost us. I wish I'd been more aggressive at the start of the season. But it's great to take second for the year.

"I have no clue what I'm doing next year yet. We're talking to some Atlantic teams, but right now it's just talk."

Jonathan Klein: "It's nice to cap off the season with a podium finish. It would have been nicer to win, but second is good.

"It's sort of hard to tell how my car was with all the yellows. I qualified well today because the car was good and I'm fast in the rain.

"In the race I kept my nose clean and just focused on staying out of trouble. Robbie's sister Tanya was my good luck charm today.

"For the year, I guess the biggest thing I learned was that you have to be smart. Sometimes its better to give up a position so you can take home as many points as you can. Sometimes if you're sixth you better not try to make an all-out move to get fifth if it means that the move might not work out and you might DNF.

"I don't know what I'm doing next year. It's completely up in the air."

Graham Rahal: "The car felt pretty quick and pretty consistent. The problems just hit us at the wrong times. James [Hinchcliffe] put a blatant block on me, and another driver tried to take me out on the last restart. If that hadn't happened, we could have gotten the lead and then no one could have gotten close to us, just like it was for James.

"I got a lot of seat time this year.  The highlight was either Portland or
the Runoffs.  I learned the abilities of a race car this year; how you can push
it and where the limits are.  It was all a matter of getting more comfortable.

"This morning was only the third time I've ever run a Star Mazda car in the rain, and the whole year has been a learning experience. Earlier in the year I was five seconds off in the rain; now I'm just a couple of tenths of a second.

"It's all a matter of seat time and gaining confidence."

Pablo Donoso: "Sean Guthrie put me off.  I passed him, and he just hit me in
the turn before the carousel.  The car was damaged too much to continue.

"It was not the way I wanted to end the year, but it was still a good year. We won a race and had three poles.

"The team is great. These are the best people that I have ever known.

"I am going to run USAC Silver Crown next year."

-awr-

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About this article
Series Pro Mazda
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Graham Rahal , Michael Potekhen , Robbie Pecorari , Pablo Donoso , Jonathan Klein , James Hinchcliffe , Sean Guthrie