FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MONTEREY, Calif., Oct. 20 - Andersen Walko Racing (AWR) had a good showing but mixed results in the Star Mazda series' season finale last Saturday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The highlight of the weekend came after the race when one of its drivers, Jonathan Klein, walked away with the series' "Most Improved Driver" award for 2004.
Klein, of Long Grove, Ill., had the best finish of the two AWR drivers at Laguna. He placed sixth in the event, which was presented by Goodyear.
His teammate would rather remember qualifying. Robbie Pecorari of Aston, Pa. qualified fourth, only seven-tenths of a second off the pole. Another competitor hit him from behind in turn one at the start of the 28-lap/45-minute race, however. The contact broke Pecorari's car's left-rear suspension and he had to drop out, ending up 38th in the final rundown.
Klein's day went the other way. Before he finished sixth he qualified 15th in the very competitive, 40-car field. His best lap in quals took just 1.4 seconds longer than polewinner Michael McDowell's did in getting around the challenging, 2.238-mile road course.
Luis Schiavo, last year's champion, won the race over this year's champion, McDowell. Brian Frisselle, Scott Jenkins and Daniel Di Leo rounded out the top five. The race was part of the Audi Sports Car Championships and was a support event to the American Le Mans Series headliner.
"We really believe Robbie had a shot to win the race, and barring unforeseen difficulties would have at least had a podium finish," noted team co-owner Dan Andersen. "Jono had his usual great start, picking up several positions. He then drove a great race, making good passes on [Raphael] Matos and getting by [Nick] Steele despite being held up for awhile."
Klein was driving the No. 97 AWR entry sponsored by Kalfact Plastics; Fettes, Love and Sieben; Nexus Distribution Corp.; Midwest Steel & Services; Ironclad and ProStar.
Pecorari was in the No. 98 AWR car, which was sponsored by SAI Hydraulics.
In the two practice sessions Friday Klein was 21st and third and Pecorari was eighth and fifth. In the three sessions on Thursday, the optional promoter's test day, Klein was 11th, 19th and 12th while Pecorari was 14th, 15th and 10th.
"We will have to work on our qualifying set-ups over the winter; we're great with our race set-ups though," Klein noted afterwards. "We started 15th, and for a good portion of the race we had the fastest lap. I gained nine positions and got up to sixth; I had the quickest car for many laps. That's as far as I got though, because the track really started to fall off at the end. "
"We seemed to have good cars in the afternoons, but we didn't get too many good times laid down in the morning [practice] sessions," he pointed out. "But my car was great in the race. Eric [Langbein] and Scott [Gates] did a fantastic job all year. I think towards the end of the year they were the two best crewmembers in the paddock. John Walko always has good advice to offer, and I want to thank him and Dan Andersen for giving me the opportunity to drive for their team this year. I was just going to do Barber Dodge nationals this year, but Paul Dana told me to check this team out. I did, and it was love at first sight with the team and me. I don't want to go to any other team and I don't even have any second thoughts about that; I'm really looking forward to next year with Andersen Walko."
Andersen Walko Racing will focus on the Star Mazda series next year in addition to fielding cars in SCCA Club Racing events. The team also won the 2004 Formula Ford Zetec team championship this year.
AWR will begin an extensive off-season testing program next month in preparation for the 2005 Star Mazda season opener. That event will be on March 18 as part of the 12 Hours of Sebring program in Sebring, Fla.
"I finished the season 15th in points, but without us missing the first race and having some problems in two other events, I would have had a healthy fifth," Klein said. "I'm extremely excited about next year. I am hoping that Robbie and I can run together as Andersen Walko teammates in Star Mazda next year; we work well together. Our team will head into the winter with an open mind, looking to learn as much as we can and have fun while we do it. We want to go into 2005 as prepared as possible. We have our work cut out for us, but I truly believe we can run for the championship next year. I'm extremely excited!"
The Laguna Seca race will be televised on SPEED at 2 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, Oct. 31. The Oct. 2 race from Phoenix will be broadcast on the same network at 11:30 p.m. Oct. 23. AWR's office is in Fairfield, N.J. and its shop is in North Versailles, Pa.
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