AWR's Donoso Leads All the Way to Win Saturday's Star Mazda Race at Infineon SONOMA, Calif., July 16 - On Friday afternoon Pablo Donoso said that if he won just one Star Mazda race this year, he'd be happy. Less than 24 hours later the...
AWR's Donoso Leads All the Way to Win Saturday's Star Mazda Race at Infineon
SONOMA, Calif., July 16 - On Friday afternoon Pablo Donoso said that if he won just one Star Mazda race this year, he'd be happy.
Less than 24 hours later the Santiago, Chile-based driver earned the pole and led every lap of the Star Mazda race at Infineon Raceway in his Cristal Beer No. 22 to give him his first victory in America and Andersen Walko Racing's second series victory in a row.
"I'm really, really happy," Donoso said after doing victory donuts on the frontstretch.
Although he led all 25 laps, he had to withstand incredible pressure from two different drivers: Marco Andretti and Raphael Matos.
Andretti ran in second for the first 15 laps before Matos passed him in turn six for the spot. Matos was right on Donoso's rear wing when the yellow came out on lap 21 after AWR's Graham Rahal spun in turn seven on lap 20. The New Albany, Ohio-based rookie was third for the first eight laps of the race and fourth for the next eight laps, and he was fifth when he spun.
The green waved again on lap 23 for one final shoot-out but on the very last lap Matos's car's engine sputtered and he slowed, as he was running out of fuel. That cost him two spots, as Andretti got by him on the last lap to regain second and James Hinchcliffe passed him for third. AWR's Robbie Pecorari, the race winner at Pikes Peak International Raceway earlier this month, almost slipped by Matos too but the Aston, Pa. driver ended up fifth at the line in the SAI Hydraulics entry.
It was Donoso's day all the way.
"Raphael [Matos] was really fast," Donoso noted. "He caught me in three laps. It was sad for him but good for us.
"My car was perfect," the winner continued. "I had understeer, but that's what I wanted," he said. "With oversteer I was slow; with understeer I was fast. I think you need understeer at this track."
"My car was so loose, it was like riding a bull," Pecorari said. "I think we just went too soft with the bar. Graham's car was a lot better than mine was. I could see because I was right behind him for most of the race. When he spun I had to go pretty wide because I didn't know where he was going to end up. We both had our hands full."
Rahal got going again after his spin but he ended up 31st at the checkered in the No. 12 sponsored by The Bobby Rahal Automotive Group, Bosch, Norwalk Furniture and Renier Construction.
"My car was generally loose, right from the start," Rahal said. "We expected that, but we didn't expect it to get as loose as it got. We're disappointed."
Right behind him in 32nd was the fourth AWR entry of Jonathan Klein of Long Grove, Ill. He experienced engine problems with his primary car in qualifications so he started 24th in his back-up car, and then blasted through the field at the start to the delight of his sponsors, Nexus Distribution Corp., Midwest Steel & Services, Ironclad Performance Wear and ProStar.
He was 13th by the end of lap one and 11th by the end of lap two, but his impressive drive was thwarted when he pitted two laps later due to a freak problem with his right-rear tire.
"I had a right-rear tire failure," he said. "The tread delaminated from the carcass of the tire. I pitted for a new tire and thought that my race was over, but I got back out there and just tried to do what I could to get back on the lead lap."
Donoso had never competed in a race here before but he said he learned a lot about the 2.53-mile road course by playing racing video games that replicate it.
"It really helped me learn the course," he said afterwards. "The esses are the same, and I learned the lines in turn one and two on the computer," he said. "It's good training. You have to play seriously though. Sometimes I play three hours a day."
Donoso is the protégé of Eliseso Salazar, who unfortunately had to miss this event due to a previous commitment in Peru.
Donoso earned his first series pole, and the point that goes with it, by setting the fastest time in qualifying Saturday morning. His fastest lap in the session, the seventh one he turned, was timed in 1:29.198 for an average speed of 102.110 mph. That was just a tad slower than Michael McDowell's track record set last year at 1:28.920 (102.429 mph) before he went on to win last year's Star Mazda race here. It was a bit faster than the fastest two laps run in practice Friday, which were Matos's 1:29.469 (101.801 mph) and Donoso's 1:29.880 (101.335 mph), which were both posted in the morning practice session.
Matos qualified second Saturday morning but two AWR cars were third and fourth. Pecorari was third with a lap in 1:29.419 (101.858 mph) and Rahal was fourth with a 1:29.511 (101.753 mph). Klein's car suffered engine problems in quals and he ended up 24th with a 1:31.746 (99.274 mph) in the 41-car field.
Another race is coming right up tomorrow, with qualifying for the second half of the doubleheader slated for 9:05 a.m. and the race at 3:55 p.m. Both races support the American Le Mans Series' Infineon Technologies Grand Prix of Sonoma presented by Ravenswood Winery.
Unofficially after Saturday's race Matos still leads the point standings with 237 points and Pecorari is second with 207. Hinchcliffe rises to third with 190 followed by Rahal in fourth with 184 and Andretti in fifth with 182. Donoso advances to sixth with 165 points followed by Scott Jenkins (150), Mark Wilkins (149), Klein (148) and Adrian Carrio (142). Forty-five points are up for grabs tomorrow; one for the pole and 44 for the race victory.
Donoso's triumph is slated to be covered on SPEED at 2 p.m. EDT on Aug. 7, while Sunday's race is scheduled to be shown on the same network at 1 p.m. EDT Aug. 14. Highlights of Pecorari's victory at Pikes Peak will be included in the Infineon broadcasts.
Andersen Walko Racing is one of the premier formula car teams in North America. It is located in Fairfield, N.J. and North Versailles, Pa. For more information please see www.andersenwalko.com, www.starmazda.com, www.americanlemans.com and www.restartcommunications.com or call (973) 244-1900. The drivers' Web sites are located at pablodonoso.com, robbie pecorari.com, grahamrahal.com and jonathankleinracing.com.