Sage Karam’s hopes of catching Team Pelfrey’s lightning fast rookie, Jack Hawksworth, ended in Race #1 of this past weekend’s double-header at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Hawksworth won the pole for Race #1, and as he has done so often this season, he took the checkers after leading every lap of the race. Karam started off the race on scuffed tyres which fell off more rapidly than expected causing Sage to run off course twice in Turn 6 on consecutive laps. Relegated to mid-pack, there wasn’t much else he could do except just keep the car on course.
“We started the race on used tires and they were fine for the first part of the race; we were able to stay with Jack and Gabby, but they started going off in the middle of the race and I slid off track… and then did it again on the next lap. That was pretty much my race right there, but I learned a valuable lesson about keeping my head and focusing even when your race is coming apart around you. Andretti Autosport is a great team and we’ll have a good car for tomorrow’s race and I’ll focus on winning, just like I always do.” — Sage Karam, #88 Andretti Autosport
That brought an end to the battle for the 2012 Star Mazda Championship as Hawksworth scored enough points with the Race #1 victory to put Sage and JDC MotorSport driver Gabby Chavez mathematically out of reach of the lead. Being out of contention for the championship didn’t inhibit Chavez from contending for the race win. After having a good qualifying run, starting the race in P3, and getting a great start off the line, taking the P2 position from Karam on the first lap, Chavez continued to hound Hawksworth throughout the race and made a daring Zanardi-esque attempt to pass Hawksworth for the lead in The Corkscrew on the last lap of the race! Hawksworth faired better than Little Al did (or than did Casey Stoner when Valentino Rossi made the same type of pass a couple years ago in the MotoGP race).
“I reckon this is about the best day of my life so far… and I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I am. Gabby Chaves was right behind me the whole race and I couldn’t shake him, but he couldn’t get by either, so I was surprised when he suddenly appeared alongside me in the corkscrew and there wasn’t room for both of us. I knew I either had to let him by and win the race or go off in the dirt and keep my foot in it like Alex Zanardi did years ago. At that point I was determined to win, and so was he, so we were both off in the dirt, but we managed to keep the cars pointed straight and I stayed in the lead. It was a heart-stopping moment, but we got through it and this is just a tremendous victory for the Pelfrey team. We might celebrate a bit tonight, but we still have another race tomorrow, and the season finale after that, so we can’t let our hair down too far… there’s still a season left to finish.” — Jack Hawksworth, #82 Team Pelfrey
Race #2 saw a more cautious Hawksworth, but a still hungry and aggressive Chavez. Chavez set the fastest lap time in Race #1, earning him the pole position for Race #2. He took full advantage of the opportunity and lead every lap of the race on his way to his first Star Mazda victory.
“This win is a great victory for me personally, for the JDC Motorsports team and my sponsors, CLARO and Marca Colombia. I had a very fast car yesterday even though I finished second to Jack, and today, as soon as the race started, I felt very much in control and was able to pull out a good gap and work on driving each lap as perfectly as possible. We have had a very consistent season, with nine podium finishes, but now that I know what a Star Mazda victory tastes like, I’ll go to the final race at Petit Le Mans in a few weeks hungry for another one.” — Gabby Chavez, #19 JDC MotorSport
Sage looked for redemption in Race #2 and started out looking very racy, keeping pace with Chavez and Hawksworth, but a half-shaft failure would take him out of the race, and allow both Chavez and Juncos Racing’s Connor De Phillippi to overtake him in the championship standings.
“This weekend started off pretty good. We were fastest in the practice session and ended up qualifying second by a very small margin. Once the first race started, we were off a little on our car setup and I ended up making a mistake and dropped to seventh and that’s where we finished. Overnight, the team and I worked really hard to try and get the car where we wanted it for the second race. In race two, I started fourth and moved to third. I was in a battle with Hawksworth and he ran into the left side of me. A few laps later, my half shaft broke. Feel bad for the team because I think we had a winning car this weekend. We now move from second to fourth in points, so now we go into Atlanta with a lot of work to do. However, I am confident we can get it done.” — Sage Karam, #88 Andretti Autosport
Headed to the final round of the season at Road Atlanta during the Petit Le Mans weekend on October 19th, Hawksworth already has the championship in hand, and with his victory in Race #2, Chavez has a comfortable gap between him P2 position and De Phillippi in P3. The real battle that remains to be fought is between De Phillippi and Karam. Connor has 303 points to Sage’s 299, so it all comes down to who finishes ahead of whom. Which ever one leads on that final lap will have P3 in the championship.