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AND THEN THERE WERE THREE Round Eleven of the 2007 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear at the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta / October 2 -- 5 This is Round Eleven of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. The 45 minute...

AND THEN THERE WERE THREE

Round Eleven of the 2007 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear at the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta / October 2 -- 5

This is Round Eleven of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. The 45 minute race begins at 1:50 pm, Friday. The SPEED Channel will air the race in a 1-hour broadcast at 12 Noon ET Saturday, October 13.

With two races remaining in the 2007 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, three drivers are battling for the top spot; Dane Cameron (#19), James Davison (#7) and Ron White (#69).

Cameron, who has won three races, started from the pole five times and finished on the podium four times, needs to finish only 8th or better at Road Atlanta to clinch the title. If he does, he will be the first driver in the Star Mazda series' 17-year history to win the championship in his rookie year.

All the drivers in the Star Mazda Championship have waged a season-long battle for the most coveted prize on the Mazda Motorsports Ladder that reaches all the way from karting to Champ Car; a sponsored season racing in the 2008 Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.

The Star Mazda Championship is one of the richest, most successful and prolific driver development series in all of auto racing. The combined value of various prizes approaches $1.5 million in value; graduates of the series have gone on to Formula One, Champ Car, the Indy Racing League and the Grand-Am Rolex Series.

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 America's premier sports car racing events -- the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, October 2-6.

While any of a dozen Star Mazda drivers are potential winners this weekend's Round Eleven, only three -- two Californians and an Australian -- remain in contention for the championship, and the major prize they've all been battling for -- a full-season sponsored drive in the 2008 Cooper Tires Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.

The dominant driver all season long has been Dane Cameron, an 18 year-old series rookie from Sonoma, California, driving the #19 JDC Motorsports/Finlay Motorsports/Lynx Racing Mazda. Mixing victory and consistency, Cameron has compiled a 2007 record of three wins, five poles, four podium finishes and two top-5 finishes.J

He comes to Road Atlanta with 381 points and needs to finish only 8th or better to clinch the championship, the first rookie to do so in the series' 17-year history. And his success in Star Mazda is already getting him noticed in other areas of racing; he co-drove the Chip Ganassi w/Felix Sabates #19 Z-Line Designs/ Mission Residential Riley Daytona Prototype in the Grand-Am Rolex Series season finale Sunchaser 1000 at Miller Motorsports Park on September 15.

In with an outside chance after winning Round Nine of the Star Mazda Championship at Mosport on August 25 is Australian racer James Davison, driver of the #7 Velocity Motorsports/Easternats Mazda. Davison, second in the championship with 319 points, has had a somewhat controversial season, crossing the finish line first in two additional races (the season-opener at Sebring and again at Road America), but being denied the victories by penalties due to violations of on-track racing rules.

The final championship contender is Ron White, of Santa Clara, California. He changed teams at the halfway point of the season and responded by scoring two victories in a row, at Road America and Trois Rivres, in the #69 Maxwell Racing/Maxwell Paper Mazda... but his momentum evaporated with a practice crash at Mosport and a 17th-place finish. In yet another dramatic twist, his relationship with the Maxwell team has ended and he will be running the final two races on his own.JThis is his second season in the Star Mazda Championship (he won three races in a row in 2006) and he stands third in the points with 313.J

Three other drivers who have won a Star Mazda Championship race this season are all Canadians. Quebec racer Devin Cunningham won the Discovery Channel's 'Star Racer' competition in 2006, and is racing his prize in 2007 -- the #33 Discovery Channel/SH Karting Mazda fielded by AIM Autosport. He won Round Five of the Star Mazda Championship at Portland and finished 2nd in Toronto, but difficulties at Mosport relegated him to a 12th-place finish. He is 6th in the championship with 277 points.

Toronto's Marco Di Leo won the season-opener at Sebring in the #21 Maxwell Paper/Nugget Mazda, and has qualified on the front row of most of the races but suffered from a combination of bad luck and running afoul of series rules -- such as his disqualification at Mosport for mechanical violations by his team in preparing his race car. Di Leo is tied for 8th in the championship with 264 points.

Lorenzo Mandarino of Vancouver, driver of the #23 Newway Forming/Team G.Fro Mazda, won Round Four at Salt Lake City and was leading at Trois Rivi0x00e8res when he crashed into the tire wall. He rebounded to finish 2nd at Mosport and is currently 7th in the championship with 267 points.

Other drivers to keep an eye on at Road Atlanta include Jonathan Goring, winner of Round Six at Cleveland in the #14 Andersen Racing/Skip Barber Racing Mazda and newly-emerging talents Nick Haye (#37 JDC Motorsports/ Quantum Sphere) and Alex Ardoin (#51 Mundill/Oral and Facial Surgery Center). The Star Mazda Championship's lone female driver, an extremely fast young lady from Switzerland named Natacha Gachnang made series history with a pair of podium finishes at Portland and Cleveland in the #35 AIM Autosport Mazda.

The Star Mazda Championship also has categories for more experienced racers in whom the competitive fire still burns brightly. Top competitors in the Expert class (drivers 30 to 44 years old) include Tony Rivera (#52 Mundill Racing), who leads the points battle with four class wins, as well as Phil Fogg, Jr.(#29 Northwest Autosport/Consus Health Services) and Dan Tomlin III (#56 Team Tomlin), who's father Dan Tomlin Jr. (#58 Team Tomlin) races in the Master class.

The Expert/Master classes have resulted in some interesting father/son racing, including Master's leader, Steve Hickham (#17 HB Turbo/Hickham Motorsports) with five class wins; his young son, Steve Hickham Jr. races the #71 Hickham Motorsports/ Maxwell Racing Mazda in the regular Star Mazda Championship. Dan Tomlin Jr. is currently second in the Master class, followed by Gerry Kraut (#55 JDC Motorsports/Dougherty & Co.), who won the class at Mosport.J

While the Expert and Master drivers run for love of the speed and competition, for the younger drivers the Star Mazda Championship is the college football of open-wheel racing, an exciting, competitive and well-established training ground for future stars of the sport. Alumni of the Star Mazda Championship include such top open-wheel racers as Champ Car star Graham Rahal, IRL standout Marco Andretti and former F1 racer Scott Speed.J

Also on the list is 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. And the 2005 Star Mazda Champion, Raphael Matos, graduated via the Mazda motorsports ladder to the Champ Car Atlantic series, won the championship this year and will move up to Champ Car in 2008.

And here's the story on what the latest pride of 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, the company has created the unique Mazda Motorsports Ladder that reaches all the way from karting to Champ Car.JThe 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, provided by Champ Car, toward a Champ Car drive.J

So they're all racing for a dream, and the opportunity of a lifetime. The series champion not only gets the full-season Atlantic sponsorship, he also receives $100,000 for winning the championship. The series' 'Rookie of the Year' award is worth $10,000 and prize money is paid down through the field to 15th place, a total -- with contingency awards from participating suppliers such as Goodyear, BBS Wheels, Quartermaster Clutches, VP Fuels, Performance Friction Brakes and Staubli Dry Break Systems -- approaching $1.5 million.

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 a sequential 6-speed gearbox. Powering all of the Star Mazda race cars is Mazda's legendary 'Renesis' rotary engine that produces 240 horsepower, top speeds of over 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 comparable open wheel series in the U.S. or Europe.J

On-track action at Road Atlanta begins with testing sessions on Tuesday, October 2 and a pair of timed practice sessions on Wednesday, October 3.JQualifying to set the starting grid for the race will take place from 4:05 pm to 4:50 pm Thursday, October 4. The 45-minute Round Eleven of the 2007 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear will take the green flag at 1:50 pm Friday, October 5. The season finale takes place at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Northern California October 19 -- 20.

Star Mazda races are broadcast on the SPEED Channel, with the Road Atlanta event scheduled to air on Saturday, October 13 at 12 noon ET. To confirm this air time and find out when future Star Mazda races will air, log on to www.speedtv.com/programs.

-credit: starmazda.com

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Series Pro Mazda
Drivers Graham Rahal , Michael McDowell , Scott Speed , Skip Barber , Marco Andretti , Tony Rivera , Natacha Gachnang , Dan Tomlin III , James Davison , Ron White , Dane Cameron , Steve Hickham , Jonathan Goring , Devin Cunningham , Nick Haye , Lorenzo Mandarino , Alex Ardoin , Gerry Kraut , Felix Sabates , Phil Fogg