BRASELTON, Ga., March 27 - Andersen Walko Racing had a first, a second and a third in SCCA national events at Road Atlanta Motorsports Park over the Easter weekend.
Sunday morning Graham Rahal had the perfect tune-up for the Star Mazda race at Road Atlanta April 17 when he won a SCCA national event on the same course. That race featured both Formula Continental cars and Formula Mazdas.
Tim Dunn finished second in the Formula Ford race. He had to deal with a broken third gear, but he still managed to bring the car home second.
Scott Willard was in the same race as Rahal but in the Formula Continental class, not Formula Mazda. He ran second in his class for most of the race, spun, and then worked his way back up to third in his class.
Rahalís victory came in the Andersen Walko Racing No. 12, the same car he'll drive at Road Atlanta in a few weeks in the Star Mazda pro event. The car is sponsored by The Bobby Rahal Automotive Group, Bosch and Norwalk Furniture.
The 16-year-old son of Bobby Rahal had a perfect weekend, as he also won the pole on Saturday. His qualifying time was some 1.3 seconds faster than the lap Ryan Justice ran to earn the second starting spot.
Sunday's race had its issues, however.
"I led right from the start, but three laps from the end I spun," Rahal related. "There was a guy right on my tail when I spun. I shot through the grass; it was damp and I was on slicks. I went through a gravel trap but I kept on going, and when I got back on the track the guy was about four seconds ahead of me."
"The guy" was veteran Jacek Mucha in a Formula Atlantic car.
"I just kept trying," Rahal continued. "I caught up with him in Turn 10, and I was able to pull underneath him and win."
"It was good!" he added enthusiastically. "With this victory and the podium finish at Sebring, it gives me more confidence going into the Star Mazda race at Road Atlanta in a few weeks."
There were 41 entries in the group and 15 in Rahal's class Sunday.
SEBRING, Fla., March 18 - One Andersen Walko Racing driver finished on the podium, two more were in the top 10 and the fourth ran as high as second in the Star Mazda season opener Friday at Sebring International Raceway.
The youngest of the four ended up with the best result, as 16-year-old series rookie Graham Rahal of New Albany, Ohio started sixth, blasted off at the drop of the green, and finished third in The Bobby Rahal Automotive Group No. 12.
Robbie Pecorari of Aston, Pa. started eighth and got as high as fourth at the very end. Then his car's engine shut off several times, dropping the Aston, Pa. driver to sixth at the checkered in the SAI Hydraulics No. 23.
Jonathan Klein of Long Grove, Ill. also had some issues with the engine in his car, which is sponsored by Nexus Distribution Corp., Midwest Steel & Services, Ironclad Performance Wear and ProStar. He started 11th and ended up ninth.
Pablo Donoso of Santiago, Chile started second and ran in that spot for a few laps. He inadvertently bumped the ignition switch in the Cristal Beer-sponsored No. 22, however, and when the engine died Bryan Sellers had nowhere to go and hit him in the rear. Donoso restarted and soldiered on for a few more laps but his car's rear suspension was bent from the contact, so he dropped out for a 39th-place finish in the 42-car field.
Ironically Rahal had the same problem as Donoso did, although the results were not nearly as costly. He only lost a few yards when he bumped his car's ignition switch too. With no full-course yellows he couldn't catch the eventual winner, polesitter Raphael Matos, who led all 20 laps, or the second-place finisher, Matt Jaskol, but it was still a rousing start for the series rookie and son of Bobby Rahal.
The start was definitely a thrilling moment for Rahal. Before the race he planned to go to the outside as the pack headed into turn one, which turned out to be a smart choice. "I didn't know what the other guys would do, but fortunately that was the place to go and I passed a bunch of guys right at the start," he said. "Outside of turn one it's not as grippy, but you can still run there."
Jaskol got by him and pushed him to fourth on lap two, but when Donoso had his troubles on lap four Rahal bounced back to third and he stayed there the rest of the way.
"I'm really proud of him," said his father, who is the grand marshal for tomorrow's Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring American Le Mans Series race.
TV viewers can see the Star Mazda race on SPEED at 11 a.m. Eastern time on April 24.
Andersen Walko Racing is one of the top formula car teams in North America. Its office is in Fairfield, N.J. and its shop is in North Versailles, Pa.
"That was definitely the best start I've ever had in racing. Before the race started I decided I wanted to go to the outside. I didn't know what the other guys would do, but fortunately that was the place to go and I passed a bunch of guys right at the start. Outside of turn one it's not as grippy, but you can still run there."
"The car ran well. I'm still looking at this as a two-year program, so this is a great start. I want to thank my dad, Bosch, Norwalk Furniture, Andersen Walko Racing, and everybody on the team. We're looking for one through four in the championship, and I think we can still get it. Everybody on the team works together very well. The engineers all work together, and that gives us an advantage in that sense.
"I bumped the ignition switch once and lost some ground, but luckily the car started back up again."
"About a third of the way through the race I started to leak oil. That caused the rear end to keep sliding out.'
"I wasn't surprised that there weren't any full-course yellows. It's a big track and there are a lot of places for guys to get off the track. If there had been a full-course yellow maybe I could have cooled my tires and caught those guys, but when I turned off the ignition switch I was lucky to just stay equal with them; no way was I going to catch them. So I just kept my pace and tried to run not too fast or too slow, and it paid off."
"Once in turn 15 there was lapped traffic in front of me, and a car shot off course right in front of me. I kept my foot in it, but that was quite interesting."
"On the last lap I was fourth but then the motor cut out. I know I didn't hit the ignition switch, but it just stopped. It sputtered a couple of times and then it turned on again, but I went from fourth to sixth because of it.
"The car was good in the left-handers but not the right-handers. For the first few laps it wouldn't turn at all. From laps five through nine or so the car was good, but from then on I had to deal with a lot of understeer. My left front tire was trashed, but I think that was caused by the understeer.
"I was surprised there were no full-course yellows."
"We had a good start, but then we started to fall back. In sixth gear my car sputtered a lot. The no-lift shifter didn't work, and that didn't help either.
"Two guys spun in front of me once but I was able to get around them, so that wasn't too bad.
"We had a good car. We just didn't have a good motor today."
"I was adjusting the bars and I touched the ignition switch and turned the car off by mistake. Bryan Sellers was behind me and he didn't know I was having a problem, and we tangled in turn 16. It broke my rear suspension. I ran for a few laps after that, but it was too bad so I had to drop out."
SEBRING, Fla., March 17 - Star Mazda qualifying was rained out Thursday afternoon at Sebring International Raceway, and the grid for tomorrow afternoon's race was established by the fastest lap each driver recorded during the three official practice sessions: two in the dry on Wednesday or the third one in the wet Thursday morning.
Although it is St. Patrick's Day it turned out the luck of the South Americans was stronger than the luck of the Irish, at least as far as the Star Mazda grid went. With the starting line-up set by practice times Brazilian Raphael Matos got the pole, but Andersen Walko Racing's own Pablo Donoso, who is from Chile, will be right beside him in second place. It was an especially stellar showing for Donoso, who is making his first Star Mazda start and competing in his first race ever at this historic road course in central Florida.
The three other Andersen Walko Racing drivers did very well too. Graham Rahal of New Albany, Ohio will start sixth with Aston, Pa.'s Robbie Pecorari lined up right behind him in eighth. Jonathan Klein of Long Grove, Ill. had to switch to his back-up car but he was fast in it on Thursday morning and he'll start 12th when the green drops Friday on the 42-car field at 2:40 p.m.
Matos' fastest lap was a 2:00.416 (110.617 mph) while Donoso's fastest lap was a 2:00.879 (110.193 mph). Rahal's was a 2:01.446 (109.678 mph); Pecorari's was a 2:01.703 (109.447 mph) and Klein's was a 2:02.285 (108.926 mph).
Both of the drivers on the front row set their fastest laps during the second practice session. Rahal was fast right out of the box, recording his fastest lap in the first session, in which he was second only to Matos. Pecorari's fastest lap was set in the dry on Wednesday in the second session but he topped everybody Thursday morning in the wet session. Klein posted his fastest lap in the wet session, which was third-fastest of the day, and there's no telling how fast he can go in that car in the dry.
The weather forecast for tomorrow is for dry conditions.
The race is slated to be 45 minutes long. It will be taped for later coverage on SPEED.
Donoso's entry is sponsored by Cristal Beer. Rahal's carries the logo of the Bobby Rahal Automotive Group. Pecorari's primary sponsor is SAI Hydraulics. Klein is backed by Nexus Distribution Corp., Midwest Steel & Services, Ironclad Performance Wear and ProStar.
Andersen Walko Racing's office is in Fairfield, N.J. and its shop is in North Versailles, Pa. For more information please see www.andersenwalko.com, www.starmazda.com, www.americanlemans.com and www.restartcommunications.com or call (973) 244-1900.
"I'm happy with our car's set-up. We will have a good car for the race tomorrow. The track is great. I'm really happy to be here and to be able to drive on such a famous track. Second starting position is great for my first Star Mazda race. I'm really pleased. Eliseo [Salazar] has been helping with the set-up and coaching me on the radio. He is a great help."
"The decision to set the field by practice times is for the best, even though it was against some people's wishes. The conditions this morning in the rain were bad; the rain tires can't take the big puddles here, and with all the spray and the wheel spin, it was a good decision to forgo qualifying in the wet. Sixth is worse than what I thought I'd qualify in the dry. I think I would have been higher. There are a few cars faster than us, but we've consistently been one of the fastest cars here, so I'm confident going into the race. If we can get by a few guys we have a chance for a win or a podium, for sure."
"I had some problems traffic-wise in practice, but I'm feeling pretty confident about the race. We have a good race set-up on our car, and I think we'll be right there. The car got better and better as the practice sessions wore down, so if we can stay out of trouble, we should be right there at the end."
"We had a handling issue that we couldn't figure out, so we went to the back-up car for the rain session this morning and we were third-quick. Unfortunately we're not starting where I'd hope we'd be, but I think we'll do fine tomorrow. I know we'll have a good car for the race. We know we're quick in the rain, and we can only go up higher in the dry. I'll just have to put my head down and go. I have to concentrate on not making any mistakes, staying out of trouble, and not burning up my tires."
SEBRING, Fla., March 3 - Fans are already lining their motorhomes up on the roads leading into Sebring International Raceway in order to get a good spot for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on Saturday, March 19, even though the gates don't open until 7 a.m. on Wednesday, March 16.
Jonathan Klein, Robbie Pecorari, Graham Rahal and Pablo Donoso aren't waiting in that line but they're just as excited about the 53rd annual Sebring event. They'll drive Andersen Walko Racing entries in a companion race to the American Le Mans Series season opener that weekend, as the Star Mazda series presented by Goodyear will also open its 2005 season at Sebring with a race on Friday afternoon, March 18.
Racing in front of well over 100,000 fans at America's oldest and best-attended sports car race is thrilling for any race car driver, but it's especially exciting for ones so young. Klein and Pecorari are 17; Rahal just turned 16 and Donoso is 20.
"The adrenaline rush that you have is unexplainable when you as a driver know that over 100,000 people are at the track watching you," Pecorari said.
Although the drivers may have some butterflies, the team has done its homework over the winter. Andersen Walko Racing tested at four different tracks during the off-season, including two days on Sebring's 3.7-mile long course. During that test all four of the AWR drivers ran times that would have put them at the front of the grid in qualifying for the Star Mazda race last year, which makes everyone on the team very optimistic.
Klein, who hails from Long Grove, Ill., was the Star Mazda series' most improved driver for 2004. He is part of the family which owns Klein Tools, the official hand tool of the ALMS series and a sponsor of Dan Wheldon's Andretti Green Racing entry in the Indy Racing League IndyCar series. Klein will be in the black and white No. 26 Star Mazda car.
Pecorari, who lives in Aston, Pa., has impressed just about everybody who has ever watched him race. He'll be in the black No. 23 at Sebring. He raced a Skip Barber car at Sebring last year, finishing second and fourth in a doubleheader in only his second and third open-wheel starts.
Rahal, of New Albany, Ohio, is the son of the legendary Bobby Rahal, who won the Twelve Hours of Sebring himself in 1987 in a Porsche 962 with Jochen Mass as his co-driver. That family of course is also deeply involved in IndyCar Racing, as Rahal Letterman Racing is the defending Indy 500 winner and fields Indy cars for Buddy Rice, Vitor Meiria and Danica Patrick. Rahal will be in the No. 12, which is painted McLaren orange and blue.
Donoso has an IndyCar connection too, as he's the protégé of fellow Chilean Eliseo Salazar, whom Americans know best for his IndyCar drives. Donoso hails from Santiago, Chile. He has the same sponsor that Salazar had in Indy cars, Cristal Beer. His car is yellow and green and carries the number 22.
"Sebring International Raceway is an excellent track," Klein said. "It's bumpy, flat and aging, but I always enjoy driving it."
"Success at Sebring comes by keeping your nose clean and saving your tires," he explained. "If I can do those two things well during the race, the result should be fantastic."
Klein added that he has a set of grandparents in nearby Orlando. "I hope they come out to cheer my teammates and me on," he added.
Klein, whose nickname is "Jono," is sponsored by Kalfact Plastics; Fettes, Love and Sieben; Nexus Distribution Corp.; Midwest Steel & Services; Ironclad and ProStar.
"The race at Sebring will be very exciting," predicted Pecorari, who is sponsored by SAI Hydraulics. "Last year the top runners at the season opener were the top runners all year long. The track has a great layout but it's a little bumpy due to the cement surface."
Sebring was originally built as a World War II B-17 training base.
"The Sebring track is the ultimate," Rahal pronounced. "It is fast, momentous and exciting. The history behind it brings excitement to your body as you drive around it, and you just think of all the other great drivers who have driven there."
"I've never raced at Sebring before; this will be the first time for me," Donoso said. "The course is very demanding. It's fast and technical at the same time."
"My teammates will help me as much as they can," Donoso added. "I'm also going to depend on the guidance of Eliseo Salazar. He has won many races in many different series, and his knowledge will help me a lot."
Star Mazda practice is the first thing on the weekend card, as a half-hour session is slated for 8 a.m. Wednesday, March 16, while those fans with their motorhomes will still be setting up. Another half-hour session will be held at 3:15 p.m. that afternoon.
On Thursday, March 17 there is practice from 8:45 a.m. until 9:15 a.m. prior to qualifying from 1:05 p.m. until 1:50 p.m. that day. Then all that will be left will be to run the 45-minute race, which is slated to get the green flag at 2:40 p.m. on Friday, March 18. The schedule is subject to change, but that's the latest as of press time.
All of the Star Mazda races are televised on a tape-delayed basis on SPEED.
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