Scott Speed victorious at Sebring in rookie debut March 15, 2002: Sebring International Raceway. With what he described as an emotional victory, Scott Speed led flag to flag to win Round One of the Star Mazda Series North American Championship...
Scott Speed victorious at Sebring in rookie debut
March 15, 2002: Sebring International Raceway. With what he described as an emotional victory, Scott Speed led flag to flag to win Round One of the Star Mazda Series North American Championship today at Sebring International Raceway by 1.289 seconds over 2001 Star Mazda Series Most Improved Driver Tim Jennings.
"The guys gave me a really great car and I want to give a big thanks to Valley Motor Center and all my sponsors for getting me here," an excited Speed said in victory lane. "It got pretty close there at the end as I started running out of gas on the last lap but we had enough to get around to the finish."
Jennings, driving the #70 Jennings Motorsports Mazda, remained in contact with Speed throughout the race but never had quite enough to challenge his position. "Except for the starts Scott and I were dead even, but Scott drove a flawless race and didn't give me the opportunity to make a move. My car handled beautifully, there really wasn't much more I could ask for from the Jennings Motorsports crew."
History repeated itself for Long Island native Guy Cosmo as he backed up his third place finish in 2001 with another third place finish in 2002. "I wish we could've raced earlier in the week as our experience last year helped us to be fast straight off of the trailer," Cosmo said. "This series gives drivers so much track time that they were able to learn the track and pick up the pace."
While the top four positions remained constant during the race, there was plenty of action with the rest of the 43-car field. Making a strong debut to the series was Racers Edge driver Joshua Rehm. Rehm, a 23-year-old student from Plymouth, Massachusetts, fought a race-long battle with Doug Peterson, the 2000 Star Mazda Series Master's Champion, before mechanical woes slowed him down. "After the caution flag my motor started detonating and Doug was able to close up on me, I pulled everything out of my hat to hold him off but just didn't have the power."
Not long after Peterson made his way past Rehm, he fell under attack from a hard charging Bret Arsenault, who had qualified twelfth, worked his way up to sixth and was aiming for Peterson's fifth place position. "That was probably the most fun I've had in a race," Arsenault said afterwards. "Doug gave me just enough room that I could've got past if I put a couple of wheels on the grass but it was a good, clean race."
Also driving a strong race was Roswell, Georgia, native Glenn Cooper, who was forced to battle back from a difficult qualifying session, in which he was able to take only one timed lap before a gearbox problem sidelined him. Forced to start 38th as a result, Cooper put his head down and drove through the field to a 17th place finish. "In qualifying I had what I like to call the 'Sebring Jinx'," Cooper said. "Last year I was only able to get one lap in qualifying and then this year I had a gear selector break. I'd like to thank Ron Roland and the R Sport team for helping me get things shimmed back into place."
While most of the race was incident free, several drivers were caught up in a lap three pileup in the hairpin. The trouble started when Tom Nastasi, running sixth at the time, spun at the entry and a stalled the car trying to recover. Several cars were able to get through until Joe Pruskowski, part of a father/son team appearing in their first Star Mazda event, got spun sideways directly in front of Pierre Ehret whom banged nose first into Pruskowski's machine, dropping both drivers out of the event. Nastasi, surprisingly, made it through the incident without damage and was able to move back up into twelfth place by the end of the race.
Leaving Sebring with the championship lead, Speed has to hope that the 2002 season matches the 2001 season when the North American Championship, Master's Championship, and Red Line Oil Oval Championship were all won by drivers named Scott. Peterson, with his best finish ever in Star Mazda Series competition, hopes that his strong showing will help him reclaim the Master's Champion crown that he forfeited to Scott Kusy last season.
Round two of the Star Mazda Series North American Championship will be held at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, California, on May 17-19. Round One of the Star Mazda Series North American Championship will be televised on Speed Channel on April, 6th at 8:30 PM Eastern Standard Time. For more information about the Star Mazda Series please visit www.starmazda.com .