Mike Anderson sweeps double-header weekend at Buttonwillow Sunday, April 27, 2003. Buttonwillow, CA. Star Mazda Series Red Line Oil Championship contender Mike Anderson has taken a liking to the double race weekends on the 2003 schedule as he ...
Mike Anderson sweeps double-header weekend at Buttonwillow
Sunday, April 27, 2003. Buttonwillow, CA. Star Mazda Series Red Line Oil Championship contender Mike Anderson has taken a liking to the double race weekends on the 2003 schedule as he swept an event for the second time this season. With his success this weekend at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, and earlier in the year at Phoenix International Raceway, the DARE/HASA Pool Products team driver might take the old baseball phrase "Let's play two!" as his own motto.
Coming off of a two month break in competition, the resumption of the Red Line Oil Championship found series points leader Anderson with only a five point lead ahead of Willow Springs race winner Alan Rudolph, with Rudolph's Team Bucknum teammate John Olsen, as well as Phil Fogg Jr. lurking in the shadows.
Looking to take charge of the weekend early, Anderson placed his car on the pole position for Saturday's race, edging out Rudolph by less than a tenth of a second around the 2.92-mile course. When the green flag dropped Anderson was able to maintain his position. Rudolph, who would spend much of the weekend fighting engine woes, was not as fortunate being overtaken by John Olsen and series newcomer John Green.
"When the green came out I got the jump and beat Alan into the first turn. The pack was fighting for position behind me and John Green was able to move into second place," Anderson commented afterwards. "I pushed as hard as I could to get some space between myself and Green, before we hit traffic. I was very fortunate to get by all of the lapped traffic that I encountered on the straights while Green was not as lucky, having to follow more that one car through a turn or two."
Green, in only his second start of Star Mazda competition would keep the pressure on Anderson throughout the race until his motor started detonating and he backed off to conserve the car. "We had a really productive test day on Friday adjusting the mechanical grip, which paid off as the handling of the car was consistent for the entire race," Green stated.
Also appearing on the podium for the first time in Star Mazda competition was rookie Ryan Justice, who was able to bring his car home third after qualifying fifth overall. "The team talked me through the entire race and supported me the entire way," Justice said, in praise of his Star Race Cars team. "Driving for the factory team really makes me step it up because my teammate Mike McDowell is an awesome driver and always has the team doing well. In turn this gives me added incentive to do well."
Although appearing on the podium excited Justice, it also added to the complexity of his weekend as he was squeezing his prom, in Oregon, into the normally hectic race weekend schedule and the podium celebration had put him even farther behind schedule. "I was already an hour behind schedule in order to make it to the prom," Justice continued," but the podium ceremony was awesome from the second the team hugged me with joy, to when they made me kiss the trophy girl. Then it was off to my prom! I have to thank my fellow competitor Phil Fogg for taking the controls of his jet and flying me up to Portland after the race, and back in time for sessions on Sunday."
Apart from Justice's interstate flights on Saturday, Sunday's sessions would provide the most drama of the weekend. Qualifying would finish with Anderson and Green sharing the top two positions on the starting grid. Falling in behind them towards the front of the grid would be Kyle Kelly, the third rookie to make his presence felt on the weekend, a sleep deprived Justice, Brian Thienes, and Olsen. Rudolph, who had managed to bring his wounded car home in sixth place on Saturday, could only manage to wrangle his car into the eleventh spot for Sunday's race despite an overnight engine swap.
"After Saturday we thought the motor went away so the team put in a new one only to discover in Sunday's warm up that it was no better," A disappointed Rudolph said. "Then we went to the dyno at the track, not knowing what it is supposed to put out we just tried to make it better, we were still on the dyno when everyone else was already on the grid, just getting there at the 5 minute warning before the start of the race."
Prior to the start of the race on Sunday, Anderson admitted he was a bit nervous, knowing that the drivers close to him on the grid wouldn't let him slip away without a fight. "I knew everyone was going to be after me today," Anderson said as he described the start. "As we neared the end of our pace lap I noticed that we were much closer to the tail end of the first group of cars with the split start so I tried to slow the field to widen the gap, so we didn't catch traffic early in the race. When the green flag dropped this time the pack was much more aggressive, as I had expected. As we rounded turn one I saw dust in my mirrors as Thienes and Green got together. With Kyle Kelly now behind me I tried to get away, in anticipation of the traffic, which I knew that we were going to see much sooner that the previous day."
Despite his efforts, Anderson was never able to establish a comfortable distance between himself and Kelly, voted the 2002 Cal Club Driver of the Year for his accomplishments in Spec Racer Ford. "When the green flag waved I was able to get behind Anderson heading into turn one," Kelly comments. "I managed to avoid the melee in turn one and was focused on chasing Anderson down. Olsen gave me a fight for a while but I caught the better breaks in traffic and was able to draft off some of the other cars to close the gap on Anderson by race end, setting fast lap along the way."
While Anderson and Kelly were dicing through traffic, Green was slicing his way through the field after his first lap incident had dropped him to the bottom of the running order. "At the start of the race Thienes, Kelly and I were all fighting for position heading into the first turn, it seemed like Thienes got pinched to the inside and he spun across into my left rear corner," Green offered. "I determined I could keep going so I tried to catch up. Whenever I caught somebody I just passed them wherever I could get through."
Despite the on track alignment adjustment, which would cause his car to oversteer in right-handed corners and understeer through left-handed corners, Green was able to work his way back up to fifth place by the checkered flag, despite falling as low as seventeenth.
Completing the podium for Sunday's race was John Olsen, the Team Bucknum shaking off the gremlins he faced in Rounds One and Two at Phoenix, to move into third place in the championship standings with his second podium of the year.
On the strength of his weekend sweep, including gaining the bonus point for pole position on both days, Anderson was able to stretch out his points lead in the Star Mazda Series Red Line Oil Championship by 30 additional points, leading Rudolph 219 to 184, with Olsen back in third with 155 points. In Masters Championship competition Phil Fogg Sr. maintains a narrow two point lead over Bob Negron 76 to 74, with Bob Hatle just three points behind Negron.
Round Six of the Star Mazda Series Red Line Oil Championship will be held at Portland International Raceway on May 16-18.
The Star Mazda Series Red Line Oil Championship is an eleven race series, featuring races in Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington. For more information about this championship, as well as the other Star Mazda Series championships please visit www.starmazda.com or contact Gary Rodrigues at (818) 686-3350.