McDowell wins hometown race at Phoenix International Raceway
Saturday, October 2, 2004. Phoenix, Arizona. Michael McDowell thrilled his hometown fans with his seventh victory of the season this afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway in Round Nine of the Star Mazda Series North American Championship presented by Goodyear. Joining McDowell on the podium for the only oval race of the season for the series were Scott Jenkins and Jonathan Klein.
McDowell, piloting the Drive4USA/Sparco/Star Race Cars Mazda, took control from the outset of the 75-lap event, leading every lap and building up an almost seven second gap on the second place finisher Jenkins to build on his championship lead with one race remaining. "It feels great to win out here in front of my family and friends," said the lifelong Phoenix native. "The crew at Star Race Cars gave me a car that was setup for longer runs and I was the fuel load lightened the car kept getting better."
While McDowell was able to create a gap at the finish he had his hands full early in the race as Jenkins sought to find his way past in the Environmental Fibers International Mazda. "I was able to get some good runs on Michael as we first came upon lapped traffic and I really thought I was going to be able to use that traffic to claim victory today," Jenkins related afterwards. "Actually this is my first loss ever on an oval, having swept the Star Mazda Series Oval Championship in 2001, but I'll settle for a second place today and shoot for the championship in two weeks at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca."
Making his first podium appearance of the season, in his first ever oval race no less, was Jonathan Klein, the talented seventeen-year old negotiating a slipping clutch and close competition in the Kalfact Plastics/ Fettes, Love and Sieben/ Andersen-Walko Racing Mazda to great success. "Right at the start of the event my clutch started slipping so when I stepped on the throttle I had no drive from the rear wheels," Klein explained. "Restarts were difficult and I lost a position to DiLeo on the second restart but the car worked well and I was able to negotiate traffic and work my way back around him."
DiLeo, who held the championship lead for much of the season in the Select Auto Collision/Star Race Cars Mazda, lamented the lapped traffic that allowed Klein to claim the final podium spot. "We had a third place car today, and that's where we were running as the laps were winding down until we came upon a lapped car that turned down in front of me from the high line in turn four and killed my momentum," DiLeo said. "Once I had to slow, that opened the door for Klein as it takes a couple of laps to build the speed back up on this track."
The battle for fifth also came down to the final lap as Nick Steele was able to drive his Arxent/Steele Aviation Mazda past Mike Anderson's HASA Pool Products machine in the final corners of the track. "I came up on traffic as we entered turn three and Steele was able to carry the momentum through the corner," Anderson said after the race. "Though we would've liked to keep the fifth place finish we are pleased to have our best finish of the season since the opening round in Sebring."
The 75-lap event was broken up by two caution periods in the middle of the event. The first yellow flag flew from lap 27 to lap 32 for an incident between Steve Cook and Raphael Matos in turn two. "I was driving to the inside of Cook when he spun and hit the side of my car," Matos said. "Unfortunately the damage to the car didn't allow me to continue in the race."
The second caution period came seven laps later and would last until lap 53 when Ross Smith backed into the wall in turn four of the one-mile oval. Moses Smith, a resident of Chandler, Arizona, would have his race ended as well in the incident when debris from Ross Smith's car would cause a puncture of his right front tire, sending him into the wall on the front straight. "When Ross hit the wall I tried to go low but the debris cut the tire and I was up in the wall right away," a disappointed Smith commented.
With nine races complete, McDowell now holds a 23-point lead over his teammate DiLeo heading into the final race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on October 14 -- 16. Jenkins also remains in the championship hunt though he sits 36 points out of the lead with a maximum of 45 points available in the final race. Though he has a comfortable lead, McDowell plans to go all out, "At this point in my career wins are more important than championships," McDowell said. "As a young driver looking to move up it is important to make a strong impression on the team owners in major series, and nothing does that better than winning races."
Round Nine of the Star Mazda Series North American Championship will be aired on Speed Channel on October 17, 2004 at 2:00 PM eastern Time. For more information on the Star Mazda Series please visit www.starmazda.com