Portland: Round five preview

OLD ROSES AND YOUNG LIONS FAST FACTS -- The Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear race at this weekend's Mazda ChampCar Grand Prix of Portland Presented by G.I. Joe's - The current championship leader, with...

OLD ROSES AND YOUNG LIONS

FAST FACTS -- The Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear race at this weekend's Mazda ChampCar Grand Prix of Portland Presented by G.I. Joe's

- The current championship leader, with two poles and two wins, is 18 year-old rookie Dane Cameron of Sonoma, California. Between races, he moonlights as an instructor at the Jim Russell Racing School to keep his skills sharp.

- Mazda is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its legendary rotary engine, the powerplant used in the Star Mazda race cars and the company's RX-8 sports car. The first rotary-powered road car, the Mazda Cosmo Sport, was introduced on May 31, 1967. Mazda has produced nearly 2 million rotary-powered vehicles since.

- Mazda, alone among major automakers, has so thoroughly embraced racing as a core corporate value, that they have created a company-sponsored 'motorsports scholarship ladder' reaching all the way from karting to Champ Car.

- 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 F1 driver Scott Speed, Champ Car rookie standout Graham Rahal and rising IRL star Marco Andretti.

There's going to be a big-time tussle this weekend at Portland International Raceway.

With the city winding down its genteel ten-day celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the legendary Rose Festival, the big auto race that crowns the final weekend is set to be the site of a battle royal... a knock-down, drag-out donnybrook among thirty or so of open-wheel racing's fiercest 'young lions' as they claw their way toward the only prize that matters to them; the chance to move one more rung up the 'motorsports ladder' that ascends from grassroots kart racing all the way to the rarefied heights of Champ Car.

The young lions under discussion are the drivers in the Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear, one of the most competitive and successful driver development series in Motorsports history. Since it was created 17 years ago, the Star Mazda series has graduated such luminaries as the only American F1 driver, Scott Speed, Champ Car standout Graham Rahal and rising IRL star Marco Andretti.

Among the current crop of Star Mazda standouts are championship points leader Dane Cameron, an 18 year-old rising star from Sonoma, California who is in his first year of Star Mazda racing. His record so far includes two poles, two wins and two 4th-place finishes.

With 158 points, Cameron leads by 16 over Australian driver James Davison (also with two poles) with 142 and Canadian Marco Di Leo -- who won the season-opener at Sebring -- with 131. The winner of the previous Star Mazda event, on May 19 at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, is Vancouver native Lorenzo Mandarino, who currently sits fourth in the points battle with 122.

With 44 points awarded for a win, any of these four -- or about a dozen other really fast drivers -- could upset the apple cart with a surprise victory on the challenging 1.964-mile, 12-turn road course at Portland International Raceway.

"PIR is a challenging track to race on because it's narrow, there are only a couple of places to pass and the track surface changes dramatically from session to session," says Cameron. "We tested here last week and got what we thought was some useful data, but the weather for race weekend is predicted to be much cooler with a chance of rain, so all that goes out the window and all the top teams have an equal chance. The keys to winning are going to be rolling off the trailer with a good car so you can make the most of every practice lap, and qualifying up front."

An interesting side note is that the Star Mazda Championship is something of a 'United Nations of Racing' with drivers not only from around the U.S. and Canada, but also, Venezuela, Switzerland, Pakistan, England and the Philippines.

And the series demonstrates another aspect of democracy with special categories for drivers who don't fit the 'young lion' category. The Expert Series is for drivers in the 30 to 44 age range, and the current points leader is Tony Rivera with 72. In the Masters Series category for racers 45 and older, Steve Hickham leads with 76 points.

Here's the story on what they're 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. This year's Star Mazda series champion will receive a Mazda-sponsored full-season drive for 2008 in the next series up the ladder, the Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. And the 2008 winner of the Atlantic Championship gets a $2 million sponsorship to help them move up to Champ Car.

So... they're racing for their dream, and for the opportunity of a lifetime. And it all begins on Friday, June 8 with a 30-minute practice session starting at 11:45 am. The one-hour afternoon practice begins at 4:10 pm. A 45-minute qualifying to set the starting grid begins at 9:05 am Saturday morning with the one-hour race scheduled to take the green flag at 5:00 pm Saturday afternoon.

PIR is the fifth round of the 12-race 2007 Star Mazda Championship schedule. Star Mazda races are broadcast tape-delayed on SPEED TV. Date and time (all times stated are Eastern) for the one-hour broadcast is available at www.speedtv.com/programs. The PIR event is scheduled to air on Sunday, July 1 at 2:00 pm (ET), with a re-broadcast on Thursday, July 5 at 4:00 am (ET).

The next event on the schedule, also on a Champ Car weekend, is at Cleveland on June 22-24. The Star Mazda series will also be racing with Champ Car at Toronto July 6-7.

-credit: starmazda

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Series Pro Mazda
Drivers Graham Rahal , Scott Speed , Marco Andretti , Tony Rivera , James Davison , Dane Cameron , Steve Hickham , Lorenzo Mandarino