As with the two USF2000 races this past weekend on the Streets of Baltimore, the two championship contenders in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, Andretti Autosport’s Sage Karam, and Team Pelfrey’s Jack Hawksworth each took a victory, but a DNF by Karam would allow Hawksworth to stretch his lead. With three more races to go, it’s still a battle, but Hawksworth is definitely the favourite. Four drivers are still in contention, mathematically, but the two practical contenders are Jack and Sage.
Star Mazda Race #1
Qualifying for Race #1 was done by championship points as the various league officials for INDYCAR and ALMS were discussing what to do about the railroad tracks on the front stretch. With Hawksworth starting on pole thanks to his leading the championship, the race results were typical and unexpected, at least for P1. The star driver for Team Pelfrey won from pole, leading every single lap of the race, something we’ve seen Hawksworth do over and over again this season.
Hawksworth lead wasn’t unchallenged, however. Adnretti Autosport’s Sage Karam, after dropping back to P9 early in the race due to contact with Gabby Chavez, moved forward back to his P2 qualifying spot and hounded his championship rival until he was caught out by the chicane installed to mitigate the roughness of the light rail crossing on the front stretch. Karam made hard contact with the wall, destroying the car, and the race ended under yellow with Hawksworth still in the lead, and Juncos Racing’s Connor De Phillipi inheriting P2.
“We came into today with some high expectations and were quick starting the race second. We figured we had a good race car, but I didn’t really get the start I was wanting. We were still maintaining our second-place starting position going into Turn One. We all got on the brakes and I got lifted from behind and spun around, so I ended up moving back to 10th. After the yellow flag came out, I had to work my way back up and made it to second. At that point, I smelled blood and really wanted to chase down Hawksworth and battle for the win. We got up to him and I was pushing really hard. The car just got away from me and I couldn’t save it. I feel so sorry for the team because they put so much into me. I am more heartbroken for them than myself because they have to work so hard now and I feel bad about it. We moved from second to third in the championship, so we just made this a lot harder on ourselves. However, I am really confident in my team. We are starting second tomorrow so we have another shot at this and are going to go for gold. I just want to thank everyone that is still sticking around to support me. I have to thank God for being with me out there because it was a big hit.” –Sage Karam, #88 Andretti Autosport
JDC Motorsport’s Gabby Chavez took the final podium position, and both Connor and Gabby made significant ground on Karam in the championship standings. Gabby’s podium finish and Karam’s DNF allowed the JDC MotorSport driver to leap ahead and claim the P2 spot.
Star Mazda Race #2
The second race of the weekend proved to be a lot more tame than the crashfest that was Race #1, although contact would still play a role. Hawksworth made a rare driving error on the first lap and had light contact with the wall. The contact was enough to tweak his suspension a bit, but not seriously enough to force a retirement. After hitting the wall, Hawksworth drove a much more conservative race, simply looking to salvage as many championship points as possible. This quick change of strategy shows the strength of Hawksworth’s race craft. Many young drivers would see the red mist and end up damaging their machine even further. Even with a less than optimal machine, Jack was able to bring his #82 Team Pelfrey racer to the finish in P2, making the absolute best of a bad situation.
“It feels great, almost like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders. We’re not clinched yet but really close. Once again I got a decent getaway from the rolling start, and Sage did a bit of a do-or-die move into the hairpin on the first lap. It wasn’t worth the risk to fight with him. I didn’t let him through but I gave him enough room to get past and then I made a mistake a few corners later and clipped the wall. Someone must have been looking down on me today because I was lucky to get away with that one. The car wasn’t quite perfect after I hit the wall but I just got my head down and tried to get to the end of the race and get as many points as we could because this was going to be a crucial race for the championship. Massive thanks again to the team for producing a great car and I’m just glad I was able to bring it home and move one step closer to where I want to be. It’s awesome.” — Jack Hawksworth, #82 Team Pelfrey
Sage Karam rebounded in the best possible way from his DNF in Race #1, taking his third victory of the season, and his second on a street circuit, his first was at Toronto earlier this year. His win in Race #2, and Gabby Chavez’s mediocre finish in P8, allowed Karam to reclaim second place in the championship standings. Hawksworth finishing behind him in P2, however, made sure that he didn’t regain too much ground on the leader.
“Overall today was an excellent day. We really had an awesome race car and the team did an awesome job putting it back together (after yesterday’s crash) – hats off to them for getting it ready to race today. We didn’t put a wheel wrong today and I drove very consistently and did my best to keep Hawksworth behind me. The Comfort Revolution car was just perfect and I couldn’t ask for anything more from my crew. It was a great experience driving today and I’m really happy we got the win.” — Sage Karam, #88 Andretti Autosport
The Championship Battle
Only three races left to go in the 2012 Star Mazda Championship! Two races will be held this coming weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and the final race will be at Road America for the Petit LeMans. Here are the standings as of now:
|1||82||Jack Hawksworth||Team Pelfrey||342|
|2||88||Sage Karam||Andretti Autosport||281|
|3||91||Gabby Chavez||JDC MotorSport||273|
|4||2||Connor De Phillippi||Juncos Racing||259|
|5||81||Petri Suvanto||Team Pelfrey||222|
While still mathematically involved, Chavez and Phillipi are realistically out of reach of the championship title for this season, although both have shown very strong, especially Chavez. Hawksworth and Karam are the only two that have a genuine shot at the title, but with a 61-point deficit to overcome in three races, the odds are really stacked against Karam. As cliché as it might sound, it really is Hawksworth’s championship to lose. In order for Karam to emerge with a chance at the title going into the final round at Road Atlanta, he needs more than to just place ahead of Hawksworth. Sage will need victories in addition to sub-P10 finishes in both rounds by Jack. Given that Jack’ has only had two sub-P10 finishes this season, one due to a mechanical issue at Iowa (P15) and the other a driver error at Toronto (P12), it’s unlikely that events will evolve in Sage’s favor. The Corkscrew has caught out some big names, however, so a mistake by Hawksworth there is possible as is getting caught out by lapped traffic. Even if Jack finishes dead last in both races at Laguna, Sage will still trail by a small handful of points and will need to best Hawksworth once again at Road America. It will certainly be interesting watching the aggressive Karam do his best, though, and you can keep track of the action on Star Mazda’s live timing and scoring page this weekend at http://www.starmazda.com/timing/.