Laguna Seca: Rob Bunker race notes

Rob Bunker found top speed at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., checking another element in his growing race portfolio. After difficult qualifying sessions during his rookie Star Mazda Championship year, he nailed it for the Oct. 21...

Rob Bunker found top speed at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., checking another element in his growing race portfolio. After difficult qualifying sessions during his rookie Star Mazda Championship year, he nailed it for the Oct. 21 season finale, posting a top-three qualifying performance after leading the 41-car field during the session.

Bunker, of Bridgewater, N.J., covered the 2.238-mile road course with a fast qualifying lap of one minute 20.572 seconds in the No. 18 AIM Autosport Pro Formula Mazda. His engineer, Ian Willis, had just informed Bunker of the pole position time when Bunker topped it.

"As I came onto the main straight, Ian came on the radio and said, 'Pole is a 20.8, so you've got to push.' Right as I crossed the line, I said, 'No, no, pole is 20.5 now!'" Bunker reported.

His time was later bettered by four-hundredths of a second, leaving him third on the grid, but he was happy with the position.

"We finally got the opportunity in qualifying to show people where we deserved to be," he said. "I pushed the car harder than it's probably ever been pushed before. I put it on the absolute limit. I had the feeling that I had to gather up all my strength for the next lap to push even harder. It never stopped, I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing."

The race was disappointing for Bunker. He dropped back to 10th at the start with handling problems, then had only a few green-flag laps to recover. He finished eighth in the race, which was shortened to 22 laps, most run under caution.

"We had a great qualifying session, but unfortunately, I think we missed the setup a little bit. We figured we could get a little more out of the car and we went the wrong way; the first lap I dropped all the way back to 10th and I only had a few laps here and there to get back to eighth," Bunker explained. "We only had five laps of green. If I had some more laps, I could have definitely had the chance to come back to the top five. But that's not how it worked. The performance we put into the weekend far outweighed what we got."

Bunker finished 13th in the very competitive Star Mazda Championship. He is already plotting even stronger results in 2007.

"We did all right, but if we had stayed more consistent, we would have put ourselves in contention for a top-10 in points. The points were close enough that even if we'd stayed in the top-three this race, we would have hopped up the points quite a bit," he noted. "But we've got much more to look forward to ahead!"

-credit: sp

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Series Pro Mazda