Round 7, Star Mazda Series North American Championship
De Vellis Earns Second Win ... This One On The Track
FRIDAY, OCT. 5, 2001/ROAD ATLANTA--Winning his second Star Mazda Series race has been Marc De Vellis' goal since Portland, when post-race infractions against the on-track winner, netted the 19-year-old Canadian his first victory. "We work on our race program every day," said De Vellis of his family-run team. "There isn't much time when I'm not thinking about how to do better and go faster." There seems to be little doubt that De Vellis is figuring this out. The seventh round of the Star Mazda Series North American Championship was held in conjunction with the ALMS' Petit Le Mans event at Road Atlanta and attracted a full field of 43 Star Mazda entries for the Friday afternoon race. Timed sessions started Wednesday morning, culminating with qualifying Thursday afternoon. Valley Motor Center drivers led most of the time sheets with Chad Block claiming the pole over teammate Oliver Rowen. De Vellis lined up third, followed by an impressive performance by Tim Jennings. Team Bucknum Racing's Scott Jenkins rounded out the top-five qualifiers. The big news from the timed sessions, however, was the return of Racers' Edge driver Michael Stephens, who got airborne in Thursday morning's practice and landed hard, luckily on all four tires, against the front straight wall. Stephens was OK and returned in a back-up car to qualify 10th. From the pole, Block was hoping to add another win to his Sebring performance, but bad luck struck when Block dove into the pits after just one lap with a cut right-front tire. Valley mechanics quickly changed the tire and sent Block out, but he was now racing from the back, which would prove interesting to watch. This immediately moved everybody up one position, putting Rowen out front with De Vellis, WorldSpeed's David Stover, Jennings, Lightspeed's Matt Beardsley, SierraSierra's Moses Smith and current points leader Scott Bradley, from the World Speed stable, in pursuit.
When the first green came out, Block paced the field through Turn One and up the hill. Everyone made it through cleanly, but it quickly turned chaotic in Turn Two when SierraSierra's Frank Bain got tapped from behind and turned sideways in the middle of the track. The melee claimed not only Bain, but also Lightspeed's Doug Peterson, Eurosport's Dan Weyland and Lone Star Racing's Dan Tomlin III. With the track blocked, a full-course yellow was called and that was when Block pitted. The field circulated behind the pace car until lap six. The top three remained intact on the restart, but Smith and Bradley were on the move, as was Block, who was gaining two and three positions each lap (at the checker, Block finished an impressive 11th , and also set the race's second fastest lap). Just before the halfway point, the best racing involved the battle for fourth among Smith, Bradley, Beardsley, Jenkins, Jennings and Stephens. Up front, Rowen was holding off De Vellis, while Stover was comfortably hanging onto third. On lap 10, however, Rowen slowed for lapped traffic and De Vellis looked inside Rowen in Turn 10, claiming the lead as the pair headed down the hill to start/finish. "I was following Oliver and I could see I was catching him," De Vellis explained. "I got close enough to hear his motor, so I started thinking about where I could pass. I drove over the curbs in Nine and had the momentum going into 10 when he slowed for the lapped car, so I went inside. Oliver gave me enough room and I carried it to start/finish." With De Vellis out front and Rowen still pursuing from second, the next change in the top three came on lap 14 when Stover got a little out of shape in Turn Seven. That small miscue was enough to give Smith the opportunity he needed to take over third. "I think I had a better car on the front half of the course," said eventual third-place finisher Smith. "But, guys were getting the better of me into Turn 10, so I had to run defensively through there. I definitely worked for this one." Stover, however, battled back, reclaiming third on lap 17. Three laps later, Stover's hope for a podium finish was over when he clipped a lapped car and went hard into the wall at Turn Five, bringing out the second full-course caution. Stover, who was already driving a car that the World Speed team repaired from an incident earlier in the week, bruised his knee and ankle, but was otherwise OK. The race also ended prematurely for early contender Beardsley, who headed to the pits on lap 15 with the car stuck in fourth gear. Unfortunately, time and laps ran out as the race ended under yellow with De Vellis pacing Rowen and Smith. Two drivers--Luis Schiavo and Tim Jennings--broke into the top five for the first time this season. Schiavo, who worked his way from ninth on the grid to finish fourth, attributed his performance to good planning. "I had a great time out there," said Schiavo, the 20-year-old student from Caracas, Venezuela. "I really worked hard and set-up good passes, but I still had to go in the grass to make a couple of them stick." Jennings, 20, also made his debut into the top five, admitting he was impressed with the amount of competitiveness he found up front. "It's definitely raised another level," said Jennings. "All those guys I was running with today all showed great aggressiveness, bravery and talent. I'm just so proud we proved we could run with these guys." Just before the race-ending full-course yellow, Rowen ran the race's fastest lap, but it wasn't enough to catch De Vellis. "This race really boosted my confidence," said De Vellis. "I just tried not to look in my mirrors and drive my own race." In other race weekend notes, the field included more than a dozen "east of the Mississippi" drivers, of which about half were first-time Star Mazda Series competitors. We were also pleased Lightspeed's Tom Nastasi was able to race this weekend. The Stamford, Conn., resident is part of a construction team that is helping secure buildings damaged from the Sept. 11, attack in New York City. We also wished Beardsley good luck for his IRL test with Galles Racing at Texas Motor Speedway the following weekend. The Speedvision telecast of the Oct. 5, Road Atlanta/Petit Le Mans event, featuring commentator Greg Creamer and pit reporter Calvin Fish, will be shown Monday, Nov. 5, at 8:30 p.m. & 12:30 a.m. (Nov. 6), Eastern time. In the Pacific time zone, the race will be shown during prime time at 5:30 p.m. & 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 5. Please check your local listings to confirm the dates, airtimes and any repeat broadcasts. The next race is Oct. 14, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, in conjunction with CART's slate of races.