Michael McDowell scores podium in formula car debut at Sears Point. May 20, 2002 - Sonoma, California. Coming into the Star Mazda Series North American Championship race at Sears Point Raceway, 17 year old Michael McDowell had tasted success on...
Michael McDowell scores podium in formula car debut at Sears Point.
May 20, 2002 - Sonoma, California. Coming into the Star Mazda Series North American Championship race at Sears Point Raceway, 17 year old Michael McDowell had tasted success on the Karting circuit, but he exceeded all expectations in his first weekend of competition in a racecar as he qualified on the front row and finished on the podium in front of the American Le Mans Series crowd.
"My first weekend in a racecar was spectacular," An excited McDowell said afterwards. "We were either first or second quick in every practice which gave me a lot of confidence going into qualifying. The MMI Karting/ World Speed car was flawless all weekend and was dialed in from the beginning."
McDowell had only one practice day to get acquainted to the Star Mazda racecar prior to Thursday's unofficial practice day, however he credited his Karting experience for helping him display his speed right from the beginning. Sears Point was a very tricky and technical track to adapt to but I believe my experience in Karting made it very easy to become quick in a short period of time. Additionally the experience of the World Speed crew gave me extra confidence in my abilities as well as those of the car."
Despite being fast all weekend, McDowell admitted he was bit nervous in qualifying when the session was halted for an incident before he had been able to establish a solid qualifying time. His fears were quickly allayed as the track safety crews swiftly cleared the debris from the track, allowing the drivers adequate time to lay down fast times, with McDowell topping the chart for most of the session, only to be knocked off pole in the closing seconds by series points leader Scott Speed.
The hoped for front row battle would become an uphill struggle in the race as McDowell missed a shift on the start of the race and fell back to forth place before he could recover. "I made a huge Rookie mistake at the start missed a shift and went back to fourth or fifth," McDowell said, adding, "still it could have been worse as all I saw was swarm of cars trying to get around me in every which way. Due to the mistake though I was hit from behind, smashing the exhaust, which seemed to hinder the car performance afterwards."
Despite falling back, McDowell was determined to get back to the front and would engage Moses Smith in a race long battle for the final spot on the podium. Several times they swapped positions and raced side by side for several others before a caution lap with only several laps to go would set up a two-lap shootout. "It was a good thing the yellow came out because my tires were already overheated and the car was getting looser and looser. I was having a difficult time keeping the pace and going into turn four I put all four wheels of the track and Moses was able to get a hard run out of the Carousel and got around me," McDowell said, describing his battle. "With a lap to go I kept Moses in my sights but I really didn't have anything for him. Coming down into turn eleven I was four car lengths behind but Moses pushed high and I got a run and we had a drag race all the way to the line where I got the position by nine-thousandths of a second."
"I would like to thank all the people that made this weekend possible MMI Karting, Mega Metals, Western Titanium, WAT Plumbing, NoFear, Sparco USA and World Speed Motorsports, each and every one of these organizations helped me reach the podium today."