Michael McDowell closes gap with victory at Road America August 23, 2003. Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The race for the 2003 Star Mazda Series North American Championship looks to go down to the wire as Michael McDowell chipped away at Luis...
Michael McDowell closes gap with victory at Road America
August 23, 2003. Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The race for the 2003 Star Mazda Series North American Championship looks to go down to the wire as Michael McDowell chipped away at Luis Schiavo's championship points lead, capturing the pole position and the victory in his Star Race Cars, MMI Karting, Mega Metals, Western Titanium Mazda to claim maximum points in Round Seven at Road America today. McDowell, who entered the weekend eleven points behind now heads into the final two rounds of the championship trailing by only six points.
"We did exactly what we set out to do here this weekend and I have to thank everyone at Star Race Cars for giving me an awesome car today and getting me to victory lane," a jubilant McDowell said. "I can't thank them enough for everything they have done in keeping me in the thick of the championship battle, all I had to do was keep my head down and go. I can't wait to get back behind the wheel and retake the championship lead."
Schiavo, driving the Energy Freight/ Colors 99.5 FM Mazda, isn't making it easy for McDowell though, finishing second after keeping up the pressure on McDowell until a late race incident between John Faulkner and Alan Rudolph forced the race to end under the yellow flag. "Michael and I had a good race going out there and I was waiting for the last two laps to make a push for the victory but unfortunately the yellow flags came out," Schiavo said. "We might've had something for him if the race had gone green as Racers Edge Motorsports gave me a car that worked well throughout the race."
Joining McDowell and Schiavo on the podium was series rookie and Saukville, Wisconsin native scoring a third place finish on his home track. "We're happy to have the podium and have to thank Mazdaspeed and Dell Computers for supporting BK Motorsports," Bach said. "We didn't get the star that we wanted but I was able to turn quick times in the race and was hoping to benefit when McDowell and Schiavo started fighting for the lead at the end."
While McDowell, Schiavo and Bach were rolling along out front, the battle right behind them was intense from the drop of the green flag as six drivers all sought to drive to the front. Fortune would smile on the drivers, as they all emerged unscathed from a frightening moment on the opening lap when Ryan Justice went off in the Carousel, kicking up a dust cloud that threatened to swallow them all.
"Ryan went off right in front of me and I went to the left to try to avoid him," explained fifth place finisher James Goughary. "Dirt clods the size of baseballs were hitting me in the face as we went through the dust cloud and I still don't know how we all came out of it. Once the dust cleared I was able to get back on track and back into the fight and score my best finish ever in the series."
Michael Potekhen, who survived the scare and went on to finish sixth in his Eurosports Racing Mazda, shared his experience as well. "Driving into the dust cloud was like driving into the dark. I was in a good position on the inside at the start but then the dust went everywhere and the last thing I saw when I went into the cloud was a car coming back across the track. I held my line and cleared the car by inches."
Also in the thick things was Moses Smith in the Team Tomlin HASA Pool Products Mazda. Running third in the championship, Moses was fighting to keep his string of podium finishes intact after a difficult qualifying session found him starting eighth for the race. "We didn't have the qualifying session we wanted this morning and started eighth," Smith explained, adding jokingly, "It was just too early and I was still waking up."
"Once the race started though the car was hooked up and I was able to move up through the field to fourth. In the closing laps I could see the top three and was hoping for the caution but we needed it to go green again if I was going to be able to take advantage of it," Smith continued.
All the strategy for the final laps went out the window when Faulkner spun in turn one, the result of a flat left rear tire, leaving Rudolph with nowhere to go. "I was coming into the turn when John spun and I thought he would move towards the outside of the corner but the car just stayed in the middle of the track," Rudolph explained. "I put two wheels in the grass to avoid him but that wasn't enough unfortunately."
Both drivers walked away from the contact, which sent Rudolph airborne briefly and both cars into the gravel trap at the exit of the corner.
The yellow flag would also halt an amazing run to the top ten by John Olsen in the Team Bucknum Piloti Land Advisors Mazda, who started last after crashing in the morning's qualifying session. "Everyone at Team Bucknum busted their tails to get the car back together and it made for an exciting race," Olsen related. "I was able to gain seven positions on the opening lap and kept moving up as people kept falling off the track."
With his victory, McDowell moves to within six points of Schiavo with two events remaining while Smith holds onto third but falls twenty-eight points behind McDowell as the series moves to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the second time this season in two-weeks time.