After a relatively well-mannered season, so far, the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear was due for a wild one – and Round 11 at Road Atlanta was it. After qualifying third, American John Edwards recorded his fourth win in the #7 AIM Autosport / Mobil1 Mazda amid a whirlwind of spinning cars on the final lap.
Pole-sitter Joel Miller, after leading almost half the race laps – notwithstanding that eleven of them were run behind the pace car – survived a potentially devastating collision with another car to bring the #20 JDC Motorsports / Mazda / K&N Air Filters Mazda home in second… and put himself squarely back in the championship battle that will go down to the final race of the season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in two weeks. Finishing third in his first podium of the season was Brazilian racer Rick Rosin, who qualified 12th in the #30 Mundill Racing / State of Catarina Mazda. Also of note was the 4th-place finish by Canadian first-time Star Mazda driver Kyle Marcelli, who also qualified 4th in the #71 AIM Autosport / La Farge Mazda.
The top-finishing Master Series (driver 45 and older) was Gerry Kraut who qualified 14th, ran as high as 8th and finished 11th in the #55 JDC Motorsports / Dougherty & Co. / Dougherty Funding LLC Mazda, his third class win of the season. Leading home the Expert Series (drivers ages 30 to 44) was J.W. Roberts in the #65 Team GDT / General Datatech, L.P. Mazda. This is also his third class win of the season.
"We finally got some luck after having to drive off the road in New Jersey to avoid a spinning car and the oil spill in Mosport that cost us a win," said Edwards. "I didn't really have the car to win, but Dempsey bobbled the start and that let Joel and I get a good run going. I was the youngest driver ever in the Atlantic series last year, and was probably too young to be in the series because I didn't get the kind of results I expected and needed. I've learned a lot in the Star Mazda Championship this year and if I'm able to win the MAZDASPEED scholarship to move back up to Atlantic in 2009 I'll be ready to keep winning."
The start of the race was without incident, though Miller slipped past pole-sitter Dempsey and led until the first full-course yellow on lap 11. Taking away a damaged car and cleaning up an oil spill took seven laps and at the green flag on lap 18 Dempsey took the lead. Racing lasted only one lap before another full-course yellow slowed the field for five laps. The green came out with four minutes to go and the action was fast and furious, with various cars spinning and the two of the front-runners sailing off course at top speed.
The big loser in all the action was pole-sitter Dempsey, who had won four of the last five races and was leading the championship. He was eventually credited with a 14th-place finish in the #21 Andersen Racing/ LotusWorks/Allied Building Products Mazda, but was further penalized by series officials for 'avoidable contact' and demoted to 19th.
When all the dust had cleared, both literally and figuratively, four drivers remain in contention for the championship. With one race to go, and drivers allowed to drop their worst finish of the season and count the best 11 of 12 races, John Edwards has re-taken the lead with 378 points. Edwards does not have the luxury of dropping his worst race since he joined the Star Mazda Series at Round 2, so his 'drop' will automatically be Sebring, where he did not compete. Joel Miller is in second with 369 points after dropping his 16th-place finish in Round 4/Race1 at the Mazda Grand Prix of Portland. Peter Dempsey drops to third with 357 points and the final contender is young Tom Gladdis, driver of the #5 Andersen Racing / Law firm of Marrache & Co. / Allied Building Products Mazda. Gladdis, who won at Portland, also has no choice in his dropped race; he was not allowed to compete at Watkins Glen due to his age (under 18) and has 334 points after Road Atlanta. A maximum of 45 points remains to be won in the 2008 season.
Pos No. Name Best Tm Best Spd
1 7 John Edwards 1:19.915 114.422
2 20 Joel Miller 1:19.581 114.902
3 30 Rick Rosin 1:20.549 113.521
4 71 Kyle Marcelli 1:20.180 114.043
5 17 Scott Rettich 1:20.684 113.331
6 19 Caio Lara 1:21.370 112.376
7 82 Billy Goshen 1:20.322 113.842
8 5 Tom Gladdis 1:20.230 113.972
9 57 Court Vernon 1:20.580 113.477
10 15 T. Hacquard 1:21.299 112.474
11 55 Gerry Kraut 1:21.193 112.621
12 12 Chuck Hulse 1:21.324 112.439
13 22 Rusty Mitchell 1:21.325 112.438
14 65 J.W. Roberts 1:22.467 110.881
15 4 Chris Hundley 1:23.982 108.880
16 48 Kristy Kester 1:21.334 112.425
17 16 C. Cumming 1:21.307 112.463
18 51 Alex Ardoin 1:20.192 114.026
19 21 Peter Dempsey 1:19.242 115.393
20 24 J.C. Kester 1:21.082 112.775
21 31 Valle Makela 1:19.555 114.939
22 77 Charles Hall 1:19.735 114.680
The Road Atlanta race will be broadcast on SPEED TV Saturday, October 18 at 12:30 pm ET. The 2008 Star Mazda Championship season finale takes place at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on October 18.