Mazda Motorsports Year-in-Review
The 2012 race season was both challenging and rewarding as Mazda and MAZDASPEED did more than its fair share of celebrating in victory lane. The future is bright as 2013 is lining up to be another year of full-throttle madness on the track and MAZDASPEED Motorsports looks to be in the thick of it. But before looking forward let's reflect on the racers, races and race series that made 2012 so special.
Cooper Tires USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda
Matthew Brabham was 41 points clear of second place heading into the season finale at Virginia International Raceway's 3.27-mile road course. Brabham and his #83 DTE Group entry saw their points advantage dwindle to a scant seven in the final laps of the 14th round of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda competition but his eighth place finish was enough to earn Brabham the Mazda scholarship prize, worth $375,000, which will enable him to move up to the Star Mazda Championship, the next rung on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, in 2013.
Brabham won the war while his teammate Spencer Pigot won the weekend. The 18-year-old Pigot from Orlando, Fla., took an instant affinity to the 3.27-mile Virginia International Raceway road course, posting the fastest lap in every session behind the wheel of his Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing Van Diemen-Mazda, qualifying on the pole for both the weekend's rounds and never being headed for a single inch in the pair of 14-lap races.
"I am over the moon at how the whole year went," said a jubilant Brabham. "I didn't expect to come into the year and, within the first couple of races, to be up to the front straightaway. So, my goals changed pretty quickly and I was going for the championship for the rest of the year. Spencer [Pigot] was really quick all year. We pushed each other so much and I think we were in a class of our own the whole season and I am sure that he and I will be racing together the whole way up. It was definitely a good rivalry. I learned a lot and we pushed each other and learned more probably with pushing each other. The team has been great all year. We were fast everywhere. Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing was just awesome and I have to really, really thank them and my parents and everyone that I have been staying with in the U.S. as I have been gypsying around. It's been a fantastic year and I am just really, really happy."
Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge
The 2012 GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Street Tuner (ST) season came down to a dramatic, winner-take-all battle for the championship between Pierre Kleinubing and Andy Lally at the GRAND-AM Championship Weekend at Lime Rock Park presented by BMW.
In the end, that battle was decided by a scant 0.422 seconds with Kleinubing taking the race victory for himself and co-driver Jayson Clunie ahead of Lally. And as a result, Kleinubing took the 2012 ST championship by a measly three points over co-drivers Derek Whitis and Tom Long and four points over Lally.
The two-hour and 30-minute race at the 1.53-mile Lime Rock Park circuit was run almost entirely under wet conditions, and featured a seesaw battle for the race and the championship. It appeared for much of the race that Whitis and Long, who entered the race with an 11-point lead over Kleinubing, would have enough to take the title. Whitis led 12 laps during his opening stint and Long was in position to secure the title with a top-six result heading into the final hour. However, the No. 25 Mazda/SemperFiFund.org Mazda MX-5 faded over the final 45 minutes to a 10th-place finish.
The #25's misfortune set up the duel between Kleinubing and Lally. Driving the No. 31 Cybernation/i-Moto/Mazda/EMI Mazdaspeed3, Kleinubing held a seemingly comfortable lead with 10 minutes to go, but the racing line continued to dry with every passing lap, and Lally used every inch of it to take chunks out of the lead. With less than five minutes to go, Lally's Kia Forte Koup was right on Kleinubing's rear bumper. Lally, who would have claimed the title by two points over Kleinubing, Whitis and Long with a victory, did all he could to find a way past Kleinubing but he couldn't get quite close enough and Kleinubing took his first Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge championship. It was also the first team title for i-Moto Racing. "It was a tough battle out there, but if you want to earn a championship, there's no better way than with Andy Lally and Billy Johnson behind you," Kleinubing said. "I think we did that today. We got a little lucky with the rain. Without the rain, we'd probably be a fifth or sixth-place finisher."
Mazda couldn't quite run the table as BMW collected the most points on the manufacturer side of the ledger, edging Mazda by a 308-303 count.
Rolex GRAND-AM GT Championship
Mazda finished third in the 2012 GRAND-AM Rolex GT Manufacturer's Championship, a scant three points ahead of Porsche. Jonathan Bomarito and Sylvain Tremblay ranked fourth in driver's points championship while SpeedSource also took fourth place in the team standings.
The 2012 campaign was the last go-round for the RX-8 that has notched 18 race wins, numerous pole positions and the 2010 Grand-Am GT Championship.
In the off-season the SpeedSource team will be hard at work developing a new racing program based on the Mazda6. It will be a SKYACTIV-CLEAN DIESEL powered, GX-class entry slated to debut at the 2013 Rolex 24 at Daytona on January 26th.
Skip Barber Race Series Championship Shootout
Peter Portante came out on top of the hotly contested 2012 Skip Barber Race Series Championship Shootout. Portante edged runner-up Jake Eidson by .25 points. Only 3.3 points separated the top-4 finishers. "This is just an unbelievable weekend, good drivers, so many close races," said Portante, who now has his sights set firmly on the 2013 USF2000 season. "First and second were separated by four points. The top four were all between four points. So it's an unbelievable weekend. It's just a testament to what Skip Barber can do to young drivers." The Skip Barber Race Series Championship Shootout is an event that rewards drivers from the Skip Barber Winter and Summer Race Series the opportunity to compete for more than $300,000 in racing scholarships.
The top racers from the 2011-2012 Winter and Summer Race Series competed in the grueling three-day process where they were evaluated on their overall performance in five race events, media evaluation, fitness test and a business proposal.
Portante received a $200,000 MAZDASPEED USF2000 Scholarship presented by Mazda for the 2013 USF2000 race season, an Indy Lights Test with Bryan Herta Autosport, and a $20,000 cash prize from California Scents. The second- through fifth-place finishers will receive scholarships to compete in 2013 Skip Barber Race Series events.
The 2012 campaign was hard service for Mazda drifters Kyle Mohan, Chelsea De Nofra and Jeremy Lowe.
Mohan had the most momentum going in as he and the #99 Nexen / Energy-X Mazda RX-8 were Top 10 finishers in the points in 2011. A tough mid-season put the Southern California drifter 22nd in points. But an updated Mazdatrix bridgeport 13B engine and a Top 16 finish at the season-ending Round 7: Title Fight at Irwindale Speedway put some wind in the team's sails for 2013.
Chelsea De Nofra, who joined Bergenholtz Racing in July to drive the Nitto Tire BC Racing Mazda RX-8, was also impressive. Despite missing some early races De Nofra did well to finish the season 17th in points.
Jeremy Lowe's weapon of choice is a 1986 FC RX-7 and the privateer handled himself well, his 29th overall not fully representing how hard he charged in 2012.
Skip Barber/Mazda Karting Shootout
The 2012 Skip Barber Karting Scholarship Shootout Presented by Mazda at Virginia International Raceway is a major stepping stone for aspiring racers. This shootout has awarded more than 64 scholarships to famous racers such as Ryan Hunter-Reay (IZOD IndyCar Series Champion), Alexander Rossi (Formula Renault 3.5), Spencer Pigot (USF2000) and many more.
The 2012 winner was Yago Cesario, a 16-year-old hot-shoe who hails from Goiania, Brazil. The talented teen earned a full season in the Skip Barber Racing School and is solidly established in the Mazda Road to Indy.
The three-day event includes all manner of car control exercises and hot-lapping for quickest time, educational seminars on a variety of topics including Sponsorship Discussion, Business, Marketing and PR 101 and Preparation of the Racing Driver among others.
Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered By Mazda
Tristan Nunez capped off a dominating Championship season in the L1 Class of the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda with a win for his team Performance Tech in Race 2 at the 15th Annual Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda.
Nunez started from the Pole followed by teammate Ryan Booth and Eurosport Racing driver Jon Brownson. Nunez led all 29 laps of the race to finish his season in commanding fashion.
Tristan Nunez finished his rookie season in Prototype Lites with 260 points as L1 Champion over second-place finisher Mikhail Goikhberg, who finished the season with 195 points. Jon Brownson finished third with 160 points.
The L1 Masters Class was a very close yearlong battle, and Jon Brownson ended up on top with 199 points. Ritchie Holt and Daniel Mancini closely trailed Brownson with 186 and 180 points each.
Scott Tucker and Alan Wilzig came to the Petit Le Mans race weekend tied in L2 Class points. Tucker's fifth-place finish in Race 2 at Road Atlanta left him with a seven-point lead over Wilzig in the standings, crowning him L2 Champion for 2012.
SCCA Pro-Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup
The 2012 SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup season championship was mirrored by the season ending Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda race at Road Atlanta. The race and the championship were hard-fought with a challenge at every turn.
In the end Scotsman Stevan McAleer won a wild race that produced a remarkable 18 official lead changes amongst five different drivers in only 28 laps of competition.
McAleer's #28 Blue Mercury Capital/Numerix/CJ Wilson Racing MX-5 averaged 93.728 mph and took the checkered flag in the 71.12-mile race. The race podium and the championship tally had Ara Malkhassian, of Houston, Texas in second place and John Dean, of Sebring, Fla., filling out the top three.
Star Mazda Championship
The Star Mazda Championship concluded its 22nd season as one of the top open-wheel driver development series in the world and distributed a prize fund valued at more than $1,156,000 to the top 15 drivers in the series.
"At Star Mazda we feel that our mission of helping young drivers along their career path is best served by doing everything in the biggest and best way possible while still maintaining an affordable budget and providing the most racing per dollar of any open-wheel series," observed Gary Rodrigues, founder and President of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. "We work to produce the biggest prize fund of any open-wheel development series, we compete on the biggest race weekends on the IndyCar, ALMS and Grand-Am schedules, we are on TV around the world and we are an integral part of the premier driver development program in open-wheel racing, the Mazda Road to Indy. As a result, we see the very best young talent from around the world racing in the Star Mazda Championship on their way up. This was a remarkable season with an extremely deep talent pool and next year is already shaping up to be even bigger and better."
As overall champion, with a series-record eight wins, 10 poles, 11 fastest race laps, 12 podium finishes, 12 top-5 finishes and 14 top-10 finishes, English racer Jack Hawksworth, driver of the #82 Team Pelfrey / TORGOEN Swiss Watches / EXA Networks Mazda, scored 397 points to win the championship by 37 points over Colombian racer Gabriel 'Gabby' Chaves.
For 2013 the series will be called Pro Mazda and be run under the direction of Anderson Promotions.
Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge
American LeMans Series Presented by Tequila Patron
Dyson Racing ended the 10-race 2012 American Le Mans Series season on a high note taking the class win at the prestigious Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda. Drivers Chris Dyson, Guy Smith and Steven Kane maximized the potential of the P1-class #16 Mazda-powered ModSpace/Thetford entry as the trio towered above the competition at Road Atlanta.
The 2012 ALMS P1 championships came down to the last race of the year. The team came to Road Atlanta with a mathematical chance to repeat their 2011 titles, but Pickett Racing clinched the championship by virtue of completing seventy percent of the race distance. Chris Dyson and Guy Smith finished second in the Drivers Championship. Dyson drivers occupied the next five championship positions with Eric Lux third, Michael Marsal fourth, Steven Kane fifth, Tony Burgess sixth, Johnny Mowlem seventh and Mark Paterson and Chris McMurry ninth. The team took second in the Team Championship and Mazda took home second place in the Engine Manufacturers Championship, as did Dunlop in the Tire Manufacturer Championship.