Di Leo Podiums Again in Phoenix
"Secures Rookie-of-the-Year title with strong run on the oval"
TORONTO, ON. - Markham, Ontario resident Daniel Di Leo (Di Leo Auto Sport / Select Auto Collision / WTF Solutions / Autosports Media) competed in the lone oval event in the 2004 Star Mazda series this past weekend at Phoenix International Raceway in Phoenix, AZ. Looking to rebound off the Road Atlanta DNF, Di Leo set his sights on the Phoenix course which would be the second oval event of his illustrious career.
After suffering a mechanical failure which forced Di Leo into the wall early on in Friday's only day of practice, Di Leo and his Star Race Cars team worked furiously to try and piece together the car before Friday evening's single car qualifying session. "It's just one of those things that a driver can't control," stated Di Leo. "I was coming up to speed and still was only at 80% when something just let go in the rear of the car sending me heavily into the wall. It really was frustrating but somehow we managed to get the car back together for qualifying." The 22-year-old Canadian went into qualifying looking to be on the pole, but with only a very few laps of practice, Di Leo could only manage a time that would slot him inside row two in the third starting position.
After Saturday morning's warm-up, Di Leo found himself with the second quickest time and was feeling very confident about the race. When the green flag flew for the start of Saturday afternoon's event, Di Leo found himself three wide heading into turn 1. As the race wore on Di Leo battled on numerous occasions trying to keep in touch with the leaders, and put on a great show displaying his methodical race craft.
Lapped traffic proved to be an issue in the race and would cost Di Leo a few positions momentarily, but the young Canadian simply kept his composure and worked his way back to the front. "We had a car good enough for third today, and that's where we ended up," Di Leo said. "My car was pretty well balanced in clean air, but on a short oval like this clean air is hard to find."
Di Leo, who held the championship lead for much of the season in the Select Auto Collision/Star Race Cars Mazda, now trails his closest rival by 20 points with one event remaining in the '04 season. With a maximum of 45 points at each event, the championship is far from over and will once again come down to the final event. With the strong run and good result in Phoenix, Di Leo claimed the Rookie-of-the-Year Honors by a demanding margin. Di Leo's next on-track activities will be in two weeks time at one of his favorite circuits Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, as the talented driver looks to take both championship titles in his rookie season.