THE LUCK OF THE IRISH -- PETER DEMPSEY'S 'HAIL MARY' PASS IN THE CLOSING LAPS PRODUCES A SURPRISE WIN IN STAR MAZDA CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND 2 AT VIR (April 26, 2009) -- Surviving a race liberally sprinkled with punts, shunts, debris and yellow flags,...
THE LUCK OF THE IRISH -- PETER DEMPSEY'S 'HAIL MARY' PASS IN THE CLOSING LAPS PRODUCES A SURPRISE WIN IN STAR MAZDA CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND 2 AT VIR
(April 26, 2009) -- Surviving a race liberally sprinkled with punts, shunts, debris and yellow flags, Irish racer Peter Dempsey pulled off the 'hail Mary' pass of the weekend the weekend to win Round 2 of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear at VIR.
Nicknamed 'the Irish Steamroller' for his four wins, including three in a row, during the 2008 Star Mazda season, Dempsey, who started on the outside of the front row, drove his #3 AIM Autosport / Motorsport Ireland / Queyside.ie Mazda to a 0.038-sec. margin of victory over Louisiana native Alex Ardoin who started from 5th on the grid in the #51 JDC Motorsports / Oral & Facial Surgery Center Mazda.
Rounding out the top-3 was Joel Miller who qualified 7th in the #2 JDC Motorsports Mazda and led the largest number of laps during the race, most of them under the yellow flag. It was the battle between Miller, Ardoin and pole-sitter Adam Christodoulou -- all teammates on the JDC Motorsports team -- that allowed Dempsey to slip through with two laps to go into first on the re-start after the final full-course yellow.
"I was swallowed by JDC cars, but I knew they weren't going to take each other out, so I was able to use that and squeeze my way through right at the end," said Dempsey. "I drafted Alex and Joel stayed tight, but I knew the pit lane exit was right there and I figured if I ended up in the grass then so be it. I more or less had to make the pass because I barely made it to this race and wouldn't be at the next one if I didn't win, so I'm really happy to have crossed the finish line first. I really need to thank Motorsports Ireland and the Irish Sport Council, as well as a bunch of other friends and supporters, for helping me get here. This one is for them."
Finishing first (and 15th overall) in the Expert Series for drivers 30-44 years old was another Irishman, Patrick O'Neill, driving the #64 Mundill / O'Neill Construction Mazda. This was O'Neill's first start of the 2009 season and provided an interesting lesson in the fruits of generosity; Dane Cameron, the 2007 Star Mazda champion, won his title driving a car borrowed from O'Neill. Finishing first (14th overall) in the Master Series for drivers 45 and older was Californian Michael Guasch, driving the #91 JDC Motorsports / Molecule Mazda. He also won the Master Series class at the Sebring season-opener.
"The race was pretty chaotic on the re-starts, so it was important to get a good draft on the inside, minimize the risks and get the car home," said O'Neill. "I'm really proud of Peter today and really happy to be one of two Irish winners on the same podium."
The 'heartbreak award' of the race goes to Englishman Adam Christodoulou, the Sebring winner and pole-sitter at VIR. After topping the time sheets in every practice session -- and winning the pole -- he was hot on Dempsey's tail going into the final lap but went off-course in a daring pass attempt and was lucky to keep his #11 JDC Motorsports Mazda off the guardrail and salvage a 7th-place finish.
"It was definitely a very entertaining race, if not quite the result I hoped for," said Christodoulou. "I lead the race at the start but got my rules mixed up and slowed down to not pass the pace car as it went into the pits and everyone went around me. I was able to work my way back up and went to make a move on Peter going into turn 14 on the last lap. We got within inches of each other and I ran out of road into the grass, then there was a turn worker post right in front of me that I had to avoid, so all things considered, I feel fortunate to finish where I did after taking the scenic route."
Other drives of note include rookie Jorge Goncalvez, who qualified his #72 AIM Autosport / Mazda 12th on the grid and moved up to finish 4th. Conor Daly, son of racing legend Derek Daly and the 2009 MAZDASPEED Motorsports Driver Development Ladder driver, started 6th on the grid and finished 5th in his #22 Andersen Racing / College Network / Indeck / Cytomax Mazda. Scandinavian racer Anders Krohn, who started 15th in the #27 Mundill / Trallfa / Colosseum Mazda, put in a fine drive to finish 6th.
The next event on the 2009 Star Mazda Championship schedule is the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix presented by the Grand and Little America Hotels at Miller Motorsports Park with the American Le Mans Series on May 16.