'Desert Rats' sweep podium at Pikes Peak International Raceway. June 16, 2002. Pikes Peak International Raceway. Calling themselves the Desert Rats, as they all hail from the southwestern United States, Moses Smith, Scott Kusy and Mike Anderson...
'Desert Rats' sweep podium at Pikes Peak International Raceway.
June 16, 2002. Pikes Peak International Raceway. Calling themselves the Desert Rats, as they all hail from the southwestern United States, Moses Smith, Scott Kusy and Mike Anderson put on a driving display at Pikes Peak International Raceway, battling inclement weather and each other to sweep the podium as the Star Mazda Series North American Championship crowned it's third different race winner in three rounds and introduced two drivers to their first North American Championship podium.
After finishing fourth in the first two rounds, Arizona native Smith, in his HASA Pool Products R-Sport Mazda, was determined not to finish fourth again as the field took to the one-mile oval outside of Colorado Springs, quickly jumping to the top of the charts and fighting off all challengers for king of the hill. "Running out front all weekend, and leading every lap of the race, I don't think I could ask for a more perfect weekend," a triumphant Smith said afterwards. "Ron Roland gave me car that was great right off of the trailer. I was able to run anywhere on the track with confidence and it's great that my first North American Championship victory as a driver is Ron's first as a team owner. I was a little concerned when the rain started falling mid-race as that bunched us all up, but I was able to get some space when Kusy and Anderson started fighting each other for second."
While Smith was leading the charts, he was not without his challengers. Masters Championship contender, and fellow Arizonian, Kusy was leading the charge enroute to a career best second place finish in only the second oval race of his career. "Mike Potekhen, David Sterenberg and all the guys at JZ Racing gave me an awesome car this weekend, and I give all the credit to them for the setup," Kusy commented. "I was locked in a race-long battle with Mike Anderson and we had some exciting wheel to wheel action in the closing laps but we gave each other room to race and my car was just a little better come through three and four when it mattered."
Celebrating his birthday with a third place finish, Mike Anderson, revealed some of the mystery to the cooperation up front during the race. "Moses, Scott and I all got together and talked before the race and agreed to work together, and perhaps pull away from the field, and we also agreed to give room to the driver on the inside line. Early in the race my car was working really well and I was able to get past Scott down low, but the caution towards the end allowed Scott to close up and my car started to understeer in turn four. I fought him side-by-side for three laps but he was finally able to make the pass."
The closing laps also featured a side-by-side battle between series points leader Scott Speed, in his Star Race Cars Mazda and Sears Points winner Guy Comso in the KC-Baggers.com Racers Edge Mazda. In a rematch of the Sears Point duel, Speed came out the with the advantage as he was able to gain the fifth place spot in his first oval event. "I was able to make a good start, but the sprinkles loosened up the track and the top four were able to get away from me and Cosmo was able to get past," Speed said, commenting on his mid race status, "However after the final restart the car really came in and I was able to get past and add more points towards the championship."
While the drivers up front were racing wheel-to-wheel, Marc Cota-Robles wasn't spending much time alongside anybody as he navigated his Spirit of Orange County/JZ Racing Mazda from 26th at the start into a top ten finish as the checkered flag fell. "I felt like we had an honest chance for the pole this weekend but in making my qualifying attempt I went a little too hot into turn one when the tires weren't quite up to temperature and I damaged the car, but the JZ racing crew came back and gave me a car that would've been a podium contender if I had been able to start farther up the grid."
Despite half of the drivers in the 27 car field having little or no previous oval experience, they showed a remarkable amount of maturity on track with cautions coming out for twice for several single car spins and once when a brief rain shower passed over the track. There were some close calls however, with Ginni Swanton and fellow Team Bucknum driver Steve Cook participating in a highlight reel escape as Swanton spun in front of Cook in turn two. "That was a scary moment as she came around in front of me and I felt like I had to duck to avoid her rear wing," a relieved Cook explained, "but she did a great job of holding the car down and both of us were able to continue."
Eighth place finisher John Olsen credited watching the Indy Racing League race with helping his approach towards his first oval race. "Watching the IRL leaders give each other room to race and keep the cars off the walls or each other really helped," Olsen said, adding, "It would look bad in front of the IRL teams if we couldn't do the same."
With his flag-to-flag victory, Smith closes the gap to Speed and moves into second place in the North American Championship ahead of Cosmo, and at the same time opens the gap to fifteen points over Anderson in the West Coast Championship. In Expert Series competition, for drivers between the ages of thirty to forty four, Rob Walker and Paul Dallenbach are deadlocked at the top of the charts, while Doug Peterson continues to lead in the Masters Championship ahead of Kusy. In West Coast Masters Competition Larry Couture holds on to the top spot entering the final round of the series.
The Star Mazda Series North American Championship now heads to Mid-Ohio in two weeks time to rejoin the American Le Mans Series as they return fresh from their exploits in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, while the West Coast Championship looks to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in September for the final showdown between Smith and Anderson.
Round Three of the Star Mazda Series North American Championship will be broadcast on Speed Channel July 6th at 8:30 PM Eastern Time. For more information please visit starmazda.com.