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2003 Star Mazda Series North American Championship - Round 1
Submitted by SuperUser on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 12:13pm

Sebring, Florida -- Michael McDowell ran two STAR MAZDA SERIES events last season and showed well in both outings, scoring a podium finish in his debut at the Sears Point round. As the 2003 season got under way this weekend during the Mobil 1 - 12 Hours of Sebring, however, McDowell showed that it was no fluke. McDowell broke the track record (2:09.10, set in 2002 by Scott Speed), during qualifying, with a lap of 2:08.80. And, once the green flag dropped, McDowell did not look back... leading all 16 laps for a 7.2 second victory.

While McDowell (Valley Motor Center, MMI Kart Team, Mega Metals) was at the top of the time charts for most of the week, during qualifying he was challenged by fellow rookie and 2002 SCCA Formula Mazda National Champion, Jamie Bach (B-K Motorsports, MAZDASPEED, DELL). Bach and McDowell traded the top qualifying spot four times during the session-both turning laps under the track record-with McDowell sealing the pole position, by just .15 seconds over Bach, on his final tour. On the other end of the grid were pre-season favorites, Mike Anderson (DARE, HASA Pool Products) and Luis Schiavo (Racer'sEdge, Rotelli, Telecaribe)...both were fast all week as well, but qualifying setbacks put them at the back of the 33 car field.

At the drop of the green, McDowell took the point with the rest of the field in tow. Unfortunately, before lap one was complete, a couple of separate incidents slowed the field in a full course yellow. The worst of the incidents saw Ian Henderson make heavy contact with the tire barrier entering the hairpin under heavy braking. Fortunately, Henderson was okay, but his (Formula World Racing, Henderson Engineering, INGEAR) Formula Mazda could not continue.

After a couple laps under a full course caution, the field went back to racing with McDowell still at the point and Mike Potekhen (EUROSPORT, Blue Valley Ski Rentals, Twin Seasons, Visa/MasterCard) and Jamie Bach fighting it out for second. Potekhen, making his return to the series after three years, was fast all week and got by Bach on the start. Potekhen led Bach for the first ten tours, before a lower control arm broke on Bach's machine, putting him out of the race. Potekhen ended up the runner-up to McDowell, seven seconds behind. "It is great to be back in a STAR MAZDA," said Potekhen on the podium, "It was great racing with Jamie (Bach) and I was sorry to see that he had trouble. Our years of experience paid off. I want to thank the EUROSPORT crew for all they did to make this a great weekend."

Terrific battles in the top ten were solid throughout the race. John Olsen (TEAM BUCKNAM, Piloti Land Advisors, DVS Shoe Co.) and Moses Smith (TEAM TOMLIN, HASA POOL PRODUCTS) had an intense battle going throughout the middle stages of the race, with each of the duo taking looks down the inside and on the outside at nearly every turn. Ultimately, it was Smith who secured the final podium spot by holding off Olsen. "It is terrific to be back in the car after coming so close to the championship last year," commented Smith, "I would like to thank Team Tomlin and the folks at HASA Pool Products. It was a great race and I very much look forward to seeing everyone at Laguna Seca."

Besides McDowell's dominance up front, the show to watch was Mike Anderson making his way through the field. Anderson came through the field with a vengeance, making it to eleventh position by lap eight, ninth on lap nine, sixth on lap eleven, and fifth by lap thirteen…as he got past Alan Rudolph (TEAM BUCKNAM, RBI Diamond Tools). He was thrilled as he came down pit lane after the event after a great drive from the back of the pack. In addition, Anderson's "back of the pack partner," Luis Schiavo, ended his race in fourteenth place after his long trip up through the pack.

Ultimately, it was McDowell's day and he was very pleased as he climbed up on the top of the podium, "I have to thank my Valley Motor Center team and my crew members. They gave me a great car and I did the easy part. They deserve the credit. I also have to thank my sponsors MMI Kart Team and Mega Metals. Without their support, I would not be here."

The next round of the STAR MAZDA SERIES North American Championship will be held at MAZDA Raceway Laguna Seca on June 14-15, 2003 with The Bridgestone presents the CHAMP CAR Series presented by FORD. Series officials also announced at the conclusion of the Sebring race that the STAR MAZDA SERIES will be running at Road Atlanta June 27-29 with the American LeMans Series. This is an event location change from the RFK Stadium event originally on the schedule.

For more information on the Star Mazda Series please contact Gary Rodrigues at (818) 686-3350.

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