Schiavo goes wire-to wire to claim Star Mazda Series North American Championship at Road Atlanta October 17, 2003. Braselton, GA. The front of the field proved the safest place to be for Luis Schiavo as he sought to capture the 2003 Star ...
Schiavo goes wire-to wire to claim Star Mazda Series North American Championship at Road Atlanta
October 17, 2003. Braselton, GA. The front of the field proved the safest place to be for Luis Schiavo as he sought to capture the 2003 Star Mazda Series North American Championship title in the season finale at Road Atlanta. While a first corner incident sent one rival out of the race and another to the back of the field, Schiavo was able to drive away to victory, and the championship, in the final pro event with the current version of the Formula Mazda. Joining Schiavo on the podium at the season finale were Michael Potekhen and Jeff Bucknum.
"I was so focused on the start and looking ahead that I didn't see anything that happened behind me on the first lap," a triumphant Schiavo said after the race, "when I finally checked my mirrors on the back straight I saw Michael Potekhen was behind me and I couldn't see either Michael McDowell or Moses Smith. From there I just put my head down and worked on driving as hard as I could. I have to thank Racers Edge Motorsports for giving me a great car all weekend, and all season, and my sponsors Energy Freight who have been with me since I started racing."
While Schiavo was working with an open track, McDowell, who entered the event two points behind Schiavo, was fighting for positions lost when he was caught up in the incident with Smith and Jamie Bach. Though he was able to work his way up to sixth by the checkered flag he would fall fifteen points short of the crown. "The start was pandemonium," a disappointed McDowell commented. "I had everything to lose at the start and the guys behind me had nothing to lose so I had settled in behind Michael Potekhen for the corner when Moses Smith came out of nowhere and blasted into me and Jamie Bach. I was able to fight my way back through the field but it wasn't enough to claim the championship for Star Race Cars, MMI Karting, Mega Metals, Western Titanium and everybody that has helped me all season."
Once the dust settled on the opening lap Schiavo had a built a small lead while Potekhen and Bucknum, who returned to the series this weekend after campaigning the Pilbeam/Willman LMP 675 car in the American Le Mans Series, were battling back and forth for the second position. Bucknum was able to swing around Potekhen on lap three while Potekhen reclaimed the spot in the turn ten chicane one lap later. "Jeff and I had a good race out there for a while," Potekhen said later. "Once I was able to get by I opened up a gap to Jeff but Schiavo wasn't close enough to run down. After a tough season with some bad racing luck it feels great to finish out the season on the podium."
The battle for fourth place was equally intense as hometown hero Glenn Cooper and Palm Beach Gardens native James Goughary ran nose to tail for much of the 22-lap event. Cooper, driving with extra passion for a crewmember, whose grandfather had passed away earlier in the morning, was able to hold on for the position. "I really wanted that podium today but Jeff drove a great race," Cooper exclaimed, "the start was wicked as all of a sudden cars were sideways and I was sitting in fourth place. I had to tell myself to stay calm, which worked for most of the race, and I was able to have the best finish of my Star Mazda career."
Fifth place finisher Goughary was equally enthusiastic about his finish. Entering the weekend two points out of fourth place in the championship, and holding onto a slim two point lead in the Expert Series Championship, for drivers aged 30 to 44, Goughary secured a fourth place finish in the championship and the expert series crown when Mike Anderson had trouble in his HASA Pool Products Mazda and dropped out prior to the start. "I hadn't realized that Mike had dropped out so I was driving as hard as I could for most of the race," Goughary said. "In the final laps I drove more cautiously, not wanting to take an unnecessary risk to gain one more position on track."
In the final championship points tallies Schiavo captured the championship with 349 points to McDowell's 335. Though he failed to complete a lap in the race, Smith maintained his third place finish, while Goughary finished out the season with 272 points.
John Faulkner was able to win the Masters Series Championship, for drivers aged 45 years and older, closing out the season with a tenth place finish in his Racers Edge Motorsports Mazda.
This years' finale marks the final race for the current generation of the Formula Mazda in the IMSA sanctioned North American Championship. The 2004 Star Mazda Series North American Championship presented by Goodyear will feature an all-new Pro Formula Mazda chassis, featuring a carbon fiber tub designed by Van Diemen and built by Elan Motorsports Technologies and Star Race Cars, the 2004 series will open a new chapter in Star Mazda Series competition.