F-Mazda: Winter series Sonoma summary

Star Mazda Winter Series Update Goshen Leads with Two Solid Finishes in the opening weekend The first two races of the Star Mazda Winter Series are in the history books and Billy Goshen is currently leading the championship followed closely by...

Star Mazda Winter Series Update
Goshen Leads with Two Solid Finishes in the opening weekend

The first two races of the Star Mazda Winter Series are in the history books and Billy Goshen is currently leading the championship followed closely by Patrick O'Neill and Stan Kohls. The points are very close and the championship is certainly up for grabs at this point.

"The field this weekend was close to twenty cars, and we raced in a variety of conditions which made for some pretty spectacular racing," stated Series Official Ben Hettema. "The Phoenix events will not be as Pro Formula Mazda heavy as this weekend was, but historically we have seen a field size of 15-20 cars in the group. The last event we had in Phoenix was last January where Dave House won overall against many faster Atlantic cars. Dave is signed up to contend this win, but it certainly won't be an easy task."

The series heads to Phoenix International Raceway for the second of three race weekends December 6-7, and will close out the championship in January on the same course.

Ever changing weather conditions greeted the participants of the season finale for the 2008 MOLECULE Formula Mazda Challenge, and amidst the fog, rain, wind and sunshine there were some stellar drives as Patrick O'Neill, Kevin Woods and Bill Weaver were crowned as champions of their respective race series during the NASA Pro Race Weekend.

Gloomy conditions covered the track for the opening practice session on Saturday, with the fog barely clearing in time for the early morning session, paced by series standout O'Neill with a time of 1:30.418 in his #64 O'Neill Construction Pro Formula Mazda. O'Neill would be closely shadowed by his teammate for the weekend, 2008 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear Master Champion Chuck Hulse, with a time of 1:31.377.

The pair would hold their positions in qualifying with O'Neill capturing his eighth pole of the season ahead of Hulse and Michael Guasch, with both O'Neill and Hulse breaking into the 1:29's around the challenging Infineon Raceway circuit to lead the field of seventeen drivers.

The threatening weather would take a turn for the worse after qualifying as the skies opened up, sending rain upon the circuit, but would stop briefly to leave teams guessing on the proper setup as a dry line began to form around the circuit. Half would opt for rain tires while the rest would roll the dice and go out on slicks.

The initial battle would be won by those on rain tires as a quick shower minutes before the green flag flew added just enough water to cause several cars running slicks to spin off line at the start of the race as they entered the first corner. The incident would cut short the races for Larry Schnur and Frank Cusack, while Dave House would manage to gather his car back under him and return to the race. With a dry line forming once again, drivers on rain tires were doing all they could to keep their tires cool as the drivers on slicks reeled them in, with House setting fast lap of the race by over a second.

O'Neill would hold on for the victory, locking up the Star Mazda West Coast Championship in the process, and would be joined by Hulse and fellow Star Mazda regular Billy Goshen on the podium. In the Standard Formula Mazda class Shawn Westerhoff would record his first pole position and victory of the season ahead of Wade Leathers and Bruce Carpenter.

"The weather made it tricky out there and my tires were finished at the end but I was able to get to the finish first and lock things up in the championship," O'Neill commented afterwards. "Now I can go out tomorrow and look to have some fun."

"The weather report and radar showed no rain, but it started sprinkling just as we headed for pre-grid. We gathered up our engineers for the weekend, decided on some suspension changes and decided to go out on slicks," explained World Speed Operations manager Mark Milazzo. "Some of the other cars went out on rains, and for the first two or three laps they held an advantage. In the end Dave House in one of our cars turned the fastest lap of the race. If we could have just stayed out of trouble in the opening laps we would have had a shot at a couple of the podium steps."

As the rain returned to the circuit almost as soon as the checkered flag flew MOLECULE Formula Mazda Official Ben Hettema observed, "rainy days on race days always bring me down and it was disappointing to see a few drivers have their races cut short. I'm hoping that this weather will clear up overnight so tomorrow it will be easy like a Sunday morning."

With clear skies greeting racers Sunday morning it appeared that Hettema's wish had been granted but high winds would cause problems in the morning practice and qualifying as the strong tailwinds down the back straight almost caught several drivers out and would ultimately send Schnur around as he rolled through the esses, sending him into the wall in turn eight during the qualifying session.

The race would unfold more drama as pole-sitter O'Neill and teammate Hulse would make contact as they entered turn two on the opening lap as Hulse tried an inside move into the corner. The contact would send O'Neill's car airborne and both cars off the track as the field rolled past. Those that counted either driver out would be surprised however as both drivers would return to the track at the back of the field.

Driving like men on a mission both would set out to regain lost ground. Clicking off fast laps Hulse would pull himself back into the battle for the race lead, finally taking over the top spot from Goshen in turn eleven with two laps remaining. Hulse would capture his first victory of the season with Goshen and former Formula Mazda Challenge Champion Stan Kohls completing the final podium of the season.

"Today's race was a blast and I have to thank Patrick for getting me out here. He's been telling me I needed to come out and race and finally offered the chance to drive one of his cars, actually the car Dane Cameron used to capture the 2007 Star Mazda Championship, and that was an offer I couldn't refuse," explained Hulse. "Now after that turn two incident I'm not sure he'll invite me back but thankfully we were both able to continue in the race."

Kevin Woods would bring his car home in seventh place overall to seal the MOLECULE Formula Mazda Championship and the Rookie of the Year title. "My thanks go out to everyone at World Speed for their hard work in putting together this race series and for providing me with an excellent car all year. They have helped me develop as a driver and I'm already looking forward to next season."

Westerhoff would complete his race weekend sweep in the Standard Formula Mazda class of the MOLECULE Formula Mazda challenge ahead of Leathers and Carpenter. "It's been fun to get back into the car for the final two race weekends and to finish the season on such a high note," commented Westerhoff. "I want to congratulate Bill Weaver on his championship and remind him if his daughter has any dance competitions during the race weekends next season his parental support and attendance is very important."

The Molecule Formula Mazda Challenge series presented by Star Mazda announced the 2009 race schedule this evening at their series official banquet.

The series will be racing at all of the best tracks in the west. Infineon Raceway, Mazda Raceway, Thunderhill Raceway, and Miller Motorsports Park are all on the calendar. There are nine weekends scheduled with thirteen races.

For 2009 the series will once again be inviting the Pro Formula Mazda, Standard Formula Mazda, and the Formula E powered by Mazda to compete in separate classes within the championship.

"This season we have the most exclusive schedule in our history," stated Eric McCombs series administrator. "Every race we have is for Formula Mazdas only. It is a significant investment by the series but it is also what the drivers have been requesting." The series will be running six weekends with NASA Pro Racing, one with SCCA Vintage, and two with IMSA.

"NASA has been great to work with, and they have worked hard to get us a solid foundation for 2009. SCCA was kind enough to get us into a great event at Mazda Raceway, and IMSA and the Star Series welcomed our group into their west coast events," stated series official Ben Hettema. "I'm really looking forward to next season as we have seen some serious growth in the field size, and interest from drivers who have not run with us before."

The season opener will be a double header at Infineon Raceway February 14th-15th.

-credit: www.formulamazdachallenge.com

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About this article
Series Road racing
Drivers Billy Goshen , Chuck Hulse , Dave House