Round 4, Star Mazda Series North American Championship
Round 11, Star Mazda Series West Division
Post-Race Penalties Net Rookie De Vellis First Win
SATURDAY, AUG. 4, 2001/PORTLAND INT'L RACEWAY-A steward's action against on-track winner Scott Jenkins moved 18-year-old Marc De Vellis into the victory position for the rookie driver's first trip to the Star Mazda Series podium. Post-race reviews of the Speedvision footage by the Star Mazda Series stewards showed De Vellis sideways and with brakes locked up to avoid a slowing Jenkins as the field exited Turn Nine for the last restart. Stewards deemed Jenkins created a hazard by suddenly slowing and assessed a one-position penalty, thus elevating De Vellis to first.
"I really thought I had a chance on that last restart," said De Vellis, who'd made all of his previous position advances with strong moves out of Turn Nine, down the front straight and into Turn One of the Festival Turns. "This time we were in second gear coming out of the turn and all of a sudden, Scott (Jenkins) went from second to nothing. I locked up all four wheels and thought I was going take out Scott for sure. I got a couple wheels on the grass and Scott was gone. Somehow Chad (Block) and I avoided what could have been a huge chain reaction."
In front of an enthusiastic hometown crowd, this would have been Jenkins' second Star Mazda Series race win of the pro season. From the third starting spot in the 45-car field, Jenkins maneuvered well throughout the race, avoiding several on-track incidents to lead all but the first aborted start lap. Finishing second on the track was De Vellis, who also set the race's fast lap. Rounding out the podium was Block, his third top-three finish of the season.
On pole by virtue of the "who-set-it-first" tie-breaking rule, Scott Bradley lined up next to De Vellis after they both set identical qualifying times in Saturday morning's timed session. Jenkins, however, was a scant 2/1000s of a second behind in third with Oliver Rowen fourth and Matt Beardsley fifth. On the second attempt at a start, the green was shown as the huge field jockeyed for position into the Festival Turns. Almost immediately, yellow flags were shown and drivers tip-toed through, hoping to emerge unscathed at the other end. Unfortunately, Bradley was one of the first victims, having been tapped from behind by Beardsley. The contact sent Bradley off course, but he eventually rejoined the pack with some damage to the transmission of his World Speed racer.
"I knew Jenkins was going to try to come up the inside into Turn One because he had done the same thing last year," Bradley said. "I gave him the inside going into the right-hander knowing full well that with my car where it was he wouldn't be able to get back to the left and complete the pass. We turned in side-by-side and I was just about to give the throttle a quick blast so I could be ahead into the second part of the chicane. That's when Beardsley ran into the back of me turning my car around and shoving me off."
The outcome of the action in Turn One was that Jenkins was leading with Block second, Moses Smith third, De Vellis fourth and Dave Gaylord in fifth. Besides Bradley, sixth-fast qualifier Tom Dyer and Beardsley also got shuffled to the back. "The race itself was a lot of fun," said Bradley, who couldn't get a run on cars coming out of the corners or on restarts because he was having trouble upshifting. "Not having come from the back of the field before I had no idea what went on back there and if there wasn't a championship at stake I'd love to do it again."
The first full-course caution came out on lap four to remove debris from various locations around the track. Once clear, racing resumed on lap seven with De Vellis making a pass on Smith for third as the pair entered Turn One. There were other good battles in progress as well, including the dice between Phil Fogg and Bob Negron. Unfortunately, Negron's race came to a pre-mature end when Fogg made contact with Negron in the chicane, sidelining Negron. Stewards later assessed Fogg a two-position penalty for rough driving.
The second full-course caution was called just two laps later to retrieve Negron from the gravel pit in Turn Two. Emergency crews worked quickly and racing was back underway on lap 11. Again, green conditions were short-lived when a full-course yellow was necessary to help Tom Nastasi, who was high-centered on a berm between Turns Two and Three after an incident with Mike Anderson. Luckily, both Nastasi and Anderson were able to continue.
The longest stretch of green-flag racing followed (10 laps), which gave De Vellis and Block the time they needed to close the gap to Jenkins. "I almost got up beside Scott," said De Vellis. "I was just waiting for a good run onto the front straight and for Scott to make a mistake. I was definitely filling his mirrors every lap I could, trying to wear him down."
What happened next changed the entire complexion of the race. With four laps to go, the last full-course yellow was ordered to retrieve Anderson, who had run as high as sixth from his ninth-place starting position, to a safer location after he stopped in the Festival Turns following contact with Gaylord. This set up a one-lap shoot-out to the checker. "Scott had done something strategically different on each restart, but I wasn't going to let him get away from me this time," De Vellis said. Unfortunately, Jenkins' plan to get away on the restart worked again, with De Vellis and Block settling for second and third, respectively. The only other change in the top five occurred in the Festival Turns when Smith got nicked from behind and spun out of fourth place. This development moved Rowen into fourth with Scott Kusy claiming his first top-five finish of the season. A post-race technical infraction involving Rowen's ignition, however, resulted in a steward's action that moved Rowen to 39th and elevated JZ Racing's Ed Zabinski to fifth.
"We're just a small privateer team and I like showing people that we can do well," De Vellis said of his family-run team. "This is a great result for us."
Other noteworthy drives were turned in by several competitors, including first-time Star Mazda Series participant Bret Arsenault, who qualified 16th and finished sixth; Tim Jennings, who started 21st and finished seventh; Bradley, who came from 42nd after the first-lap melee and finished eighth; Marc Cota-Robles, who drove an incident-free race and improved one position; and Michael Stephens, who came from 26th on the grid to round out the top 10.
The Speedvision telecast of the Portland race, featuring commentator Greg Creamer and pit reporter Calvin Fish, will be shown Monday, Aug. 27, at 8 p.m. and then at midnight on Aug. 28, Eastern time. In the Pacific time zone, the race will be shown during prime time at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Please check your local listings to confirm the dates, airtimes and any repeat broadcasts.
The next race is Aug. 18, at Mosport International Raceway, in conjunction with the ALMS slate of races. For more information about the Star Mazda Series North American Championship, please log on to the Star Mazda Series website at www.starmazda.com.