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Dan DeLeo takes the checkered flag
Submitted by SuperUser on Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - 9:40am

March 19,
2004. Sebring, Florida. For the third consecutive season a series rookie
emerged victorious at Sebring International Raceway as Dan DiLeo drove
like a seasoned veteran to claim the first victory in the new Pro Formula
Mazda at its debut in Round One of the Star Mazda Series North American
Championship presented by Goodyear.

DiLeo, who hails from Toronto, Canada, had placed his Star Race Cars
Mazda on the pole position earlier in the day Friday, breaking the track
record set by Michael McDowell in the Standard Formula Mazda last season
by over eight seconds. While the new car was certainly quick, DiLeo
credits patience and planning with getting him the victory. “We
new going into the race that tire wear was going to be a big deal,”
DiLeo explained. “The Star Race Cars team and Rick and Steve Cameron
had a meeting before the race and while we wanted to hold onto the lead
if we could we knew the race would be won by whoever had the best tires
in the last ten minutes of the race.”
As the green flag fell DiLeo would have to put his plan into action
as fellow rookie Brian Frisselle jumped into the lead in the first corner
in his Ventura Travel Services sponsored G&W Motorsports prepared
Mazda. The promising rookies lead would be short-lived however as Michael
McDowell, who had qualified fourth in his Drive 4 USA/Star Race Cars
Mazda, made contact with the back of his car as they entered the hairpin.
Frisselle was able to get the car back around to pit lane but elected
to retire when the car picked up a serious vibration.
McDowell appeared to emerge from the incident unscathed and led the
field for the next nine laps, building a gap as large as six seconds
at one point, before he started to notice tire problems on the corner
that had made contact with Frisselle’s car. “As the race
went on I could feel that my left front tire was losing pressure,”
McDowell said. “DiLeo was able to close the gap and make his move
at the halfway point, and I started trying my best to hold my position.”

DiLeo, his tires still fresh, closed the gap to McDowell and jumped
around him as they passed the halfway point of the twenty lap event
and started to open up a little gap between himself and the rest of
the field. Moses Smith, worked his way around McDowell five laps later
and set off on a mission to catch DiLeo. “The American Speed Factory
3 Dimensional Services Mazda was getting faster lap after lap and I
was able to close the gap a bit in case DiLeo slipped up somewhere,”
Smith related. “He drove an excellent race and we are happy to
be up here on the podium to start the season.”
Rounding out the podium was Eurosports Racing driver Michael Potekhen.
Potekhen, who had finished second here in the 2003 event, had also been
driving a steady race and was pressuring McDowell for third place when
McDowell went wheels off as they came onto the backstraight. As McDowell
fought for control Potekhen used his momentum to motor his way into
third place as the laps wound down. “I gave McDowell a little
room when he went wide in case he came back across the track in front
of me but was able to make the pass stick,” Potekhen explained.
“This new car is awesome and while I would’ve loved to taken
victory this is a great way to start the season.”
Several other drivers also had impressive drives on their way to top
ten finishes. HASA Pool Products driver Mike Anderson qualified tenth
in his Mazda but managed to work his way through the field to finish
a solid fourth place, while directly behind him was Nick Steele, who
had battled tonsillitis throughout the weekend to secure a top five
on his return to the series after a five-year absence.

Defending series champion, Luis Schiavo, found himself down in eighteenth
place on the grid after a difficult qualifying session in his Racers
Edge Motorsports Mazda but Managed to fight his way up as high as seventh
place before mechanical troubles dropped him down to tenth at the finish.

Round Two of the Star Mazda Series North American Championship
presented by Goodyear will be held with the American Le Mans Series
event at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course on June 24-26.T he Sebring round
of the championship will be broadcast by Speed Channel on April 4th
at 12:00 PM Eastern Time. For more information please visit

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