Mosport: Round nine preview

-- THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS -- Open Wheel Racing's Stars of Tomorrow Will Bring The Battle to a Boil at Mosport in Round Ten of the Star Mazda Championship This year's crop of young lions clawing their way to the top of the Star Mazda ...

-- THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS --

Open Wheel Racing's Stars of Tomorrow Will Bring The Battle to a Boil at Mosport in Round Ten of the Star Mazda Championship

This year's crop of young lions clawing their way to the top of the Star Mazda Championship includes three Canadians -- Toronto's Marco Di Leo, Devin Cunningham from Quebec and Vancouver racer Lorenzo Mandarino. All three are series rookies but each has won a race and are a threat to repeat that victory on any given weekend.

> Last weekend's Round 9 Star Mazda Championship race at Trois Rivieres produced a 'podium Xerox', a rare event in racing. The three drivers who finished 1-2-3 in Round 8 at Road America -- Ron White, Dane Cameron and Nick Haye -- finished in exactly the same order at the legendary Quebec street circuit. White also won the Star Mazda Championship race at Mosport in 2006.

> The Star Mazda Championship is now in its 17th year as one of the most competitive and successful open-wheel driver development series. Star Mazda graduates include Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal and Scott Speed.

> Mazda's newly-established 'motorsports ladder,' a series of scholarships reaching all the way from karting to Champ Car will see its first high-profile graduate when Raphael Matos, the 2006 Star Mazda and 2007 Atlantic champion, makes his Champ Car debut in 2008.

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The rising open-wheel racing stars of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear will take their fast and furious battle for a shot at racing's Big Time to one of Canada's premier racing events -- the Mobile 1 Presents Grand Prix of Mosport, August 24 -- 26.

The Star Mazda Championship is the Junior A hockey of open-wheel racing, an exciting, competitive and well-established training ground for future stars of the sport. With help from Mazda's newly-established 'motorsports ladder,' the cream of the crop will graduate to the Champ Car Atlantic series (the equivalent of the AHL), and from there to the Champ Car World Series (open-wheel racing's NHL).Alumni of the Star Mazda Championship include such top open-wheel racers as Champ Car star Graham Rahal, IRL standout Marco Andretti and ex-F1-soon-to-be NASCAR racer Scott Speed. Also on the alumni list are Canadian Atlantic series racers James Hinchcliffe and Kevin Lacroix as well as Michael McDowell, the 2004 Star Mazda champion who has raced Champ Cars, Daytona Prototypes and is now battling to become the ARCA stock car champion in his rookie year.

This year's crop of young lions clawing their way to the top of the 12-race 2007 Star Mazda Championship includes three Canadians -- Toronto's Marco Di Leo, Devin Cunningham from Quebec and Vancouver racer Lorenzo Mandarino. All three Canadians competing in the 2007 Star Mazda Championship are accomplished racers; all have one win and each is a serious threat to repeat that victory on any given weekend... if they can turn their luck around at Mosport.

Toronto's Marco Di Leo, runner-up in the 2006 Skip Barber National Championship and driver of the #21 Maxwell Paper/Nugett Mazda, won the season-opener at Sebring. He continued his nearly unbroken string of front-row qualifying efforts at Trois Rivieres only to get tangled up in a first-lap, multi-car accident. The nose of his car was knocked off requiring several visits to the pits for repairs and he finally exited the race with terminal mechanical problems.

"When you have a string of bad luck, each race becomes as much a mental battle as a physical and mechanical one," says Di Leo, who was on pole but finished 8th at Road America and was 13th after starting on the outside of the front row in Toronto. "Fortunately I'm confident about my driving skills and my team. I ran a Formula BMW race at Mosport last year, so I know the track and I'm feeling good about the weekend. I'll also be bringing my karting team to Mosport for Sunday's Sunoco Ron Fellows Karting Championship and we're third in that championship with a good chance to win."

Quebec racer Devin Cunningham won the Discovery Channel's 'Star Racer' competition in 2006, and is racing his prize -- the #33 Discovery Channel/SH Karting Mazda fielded by AIM Autosport. A top kart racer, Cunningham won Round Five of the Star Mazda Championship at Portland. He endured a difficult weekend at Trois Rivieres, qualifying 13th and being knocked out of the race on the first lap in the same accident that damaged Di Leo's car.Lorenzo Mandarino of Vancouver, driver of the #23 Newway Forming/Team G.Fro Mazda, won Round Four at Salt Lake City and looked set to repeat at Trois Rivieres. He qualified 5th, threaded his way undamaged through the first-lap carnage and took the lead away from pole-sitter Alex Ardoin on Lap 15. He led several laps during the middle of the race until Ardoin attempted to re-pass for the lead and the duo tangled wheels, pitching Mandarino headfirst into the tire wall in Turn 6.In fact, the top-finishing Canadian in Trois Rivieres was Quebec's Yannick Hofman, an impressive second-year Formula BMW competitor driving a one-off race in the #00 Jig-A-Loo/Andersen Racing Mazda as a prelude to joining the Star Mazda Championship full-time in 2008. After practicing in the top-10 on Friday and qualifying 8th on Saturday, he drove a clean race on Sunday to finish 5th.

Carrying front-running momentum into Mosport, the third of three back-to-back Star Mazda Championship races are a trio of Californians -- Ron White, Dane Cameron and Nick Haye -- the same three that occupied the podium, in the same order, at both Round Eight in Road America on August 11 and Round 9 in Trois Rivieres last Sunday.

White, a second-year Star Mazda Championship racer who changed teams just prior to Road America and now drives the #69 Maxwell Paper Racing/Maxwell Paper Products Mazda, has shown sudden form in winning back-to-back races at Road America and Trois Rivieres. He had a similar late-season burst of success in 2006 when he put together three wins in a row at Road America, Mosport and Road Atlanta.

"Mosport is a very technical track, so the driver and the car have to both be working at a very high level to win there," says White, second in the championship with 294 points. "Some of the factors in the weekend will include the new tire compound all the Star Mazda cars will be using, which will mix things up a bit in terms of car setup, as well as the way the track changes as the ALMS cars put rubber down during the weekend. And of course there's always the weather factor. I won here last year with a last-lap pass in the rain, so I'm definitely expecting an exciting race."

Dominating the Star Mazda Championship battle so far with 343 points is 18 year-old Dane Cameron, the young Californian who has scored three wins, four poles and four top-5 finishes driving the #19 JDC Motorsports/Finlay Motorsports Mazda. He brings a formidable resume with him to Mosport, including the 2005 SCCAR Formula Jim Russell Championship and Rookie of the Year award and 2nd-place/Rookie of the Year in the 2006 F2000 championship. As winner of the Team USA scholarship in 2006, he won the Formula Palmer Audi Winter Championship.

A newly-emerging talent in the Star Mazda Championship is Cameron's JDC Motorsports teammate, fellow Californian Nick Haye, driver of the #37 JDC Motorsports/Quantum Sphere Mazda. His early-season record includes four top-10 finishes, but he scored his first podium with a 3rd-place finish at Road America and followed it up with a similar performance at Trois Rivieres.

Also top contenders for victory at Mosport are Australian James Davison (#7 Easternats/Velocity Motorsports Mazda) and Russell Walker, driver of the #29 Pavecon/John Walko Racing Mazda who turned only one lap in qualifying at Trois Rivieres, started last and moved up through the field to finish 4th as well as an extremely fast young lady from Switzerland, Natacha Gachnang (#35 AIM Autosport Mazda), who made Star Mazda series history by scoring back-to-back podium finishes in Rounds 5 and 6.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Star Mazda Championship "Master Class" racers include 50 year-old Steve Hickham of Corpus Christi, Texas (#17 HB Turbo/Hickham Motorsports) and 64 year-old Dan Tomlin Jr. of Dallas, Texas (#56 Team Tomlin). Tomlin races with his son and business partner, 42 year-old Dan Tomlin III (#58 Team Tomlin). Also in the Master Class is Gerry Kraut, 56, from North Oaks, Minnesota (#55 Dougherty and Company/JDC Motorsports) and Chuck Hulse of Yorba Linda, California, a newcomer to the Star Mazda series who has scored two top-10 finishes in his first two races driving the #68 Team G.FRO/Silicon Salvage Mazda.

All the drivers in the 12-race 2007 Star Mazda Championship are racing identical high-tech open-wheel cars that feature a carbon fiber chassis, fully-adjustable suspension and paddle shifters on the steering wheel, just like both Champ Car and Formula One. Powering all of the Star Mazda race cars is Mazda's legendary rotary engine that produces 240 horsepower, top speeds of 150 mph and 0 to 60 mph acceleration of 2.4 seconds. This engine is so reliable that it can last an entire racing season without a re-build, helping to keep the cost of racing in Star Mazda down to a fraction of the budget required to compete in any other open wheel series in the U.S. or Europe.And here's the story on what the young lions are all fighting for; forty years ago, on May 31, 1967, Mazda introduced the first street car with a rotary engine, the Cosmo Sport. Since then, they've built two million rotary-engined vehicles and the company has built its very identity on the idea of Zoom-Zoom and every vehicle they produce having the soul of a sports car.

In pursuit of that ideal, Mazda has created a unique, company-sponsored 'motorsports ladder' that reaches all the way from karting to Champ Car. The winner of a shootout among 2007 karting champions will get a scholarship in the 2008 Skip Barber series, while the Skip Barber champion moves up to Star Mazda, the Star Mazda champion moves up to the Champ Car Atlantic Series Powered by Mazda and the Atlantic champion gets $2 million toward a Champ Car drive. So they're all racing for a dream, and the opportunity of a lifetime.

On-track action at Mosport begins with a pair of practice sessions on Thursday, August 24, followed by one more practice session on Friday the 25th. Qualifying to set the starting grid takes place from 9:15 am to 10:00 am, Saturday, August 26. The 45-hour Star Mazda Championship race is scheduled to take the green flag at 3:50 pm Saturday afternoon.

Teams and drivers will then have the entire month of September off to rest and re-build race cars before heading down the home stretch with the final two races of the season, Road Atlanta on October 4 -- 5 and the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Northern California October 19 -- 20.

-credit: star mazda

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Series Pro Mazda
Drivers Ron Fellows , Graham Rahal , Michael McDowell , Scott Speed , Skip Barber , Marco Andretti , Natacha Gachnang , Dan Tomlin III , James Davison , Kevin Lacroix , James Hinchcliffe , Ron White , Yannick Hofman , Russell Walker , Dane Cameron , Steve Hickham , Devin Cunningham , Nick Haye , Lorenzo Mandarino , Alex Ardoin , Chuck Hulse , Gerry Kraut