BRASELTON, Ga. – Colombian racer Gabriel Chaves finished his rookie season in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear in the best possible way, with a win from the pole that cemented his second-place finish in the championship battle.
It was his second consecutive win from the pole; Chaves did it the first time in Race 2 at the previous event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., and then, like today, he drove a flawless race with a top competitor filling the mirrors of the No. 19 Mazda every foot of the way between green and checkered.
In this case, it was the bright red No. 88 Andretti Autosport Mazda car of Sage Karam. He, too, had a nearly-flawless race until – just for ‘style points,’ as he put it – he spun and continued in turn seven on the last lap of the 37-lap race.
Coming home third, and the potential beneficiary of Karam’s mistake were it not for the 18-second gap between second and third, was Connor De Phillippi in the No. 2 Mazda. Trying to make the best of a bad situation that nearly destroyed his car in qualifying yesterday and dropped him to 9th on the starting grid, De Phillippi drove a smart, disciplined race to finish on the podium.
“I knew that as soon as the race started I had clinched second in the championship, but that actually freed me to take an all-or-nothing attitude toward the race; I was going to win it or spin it,” says Chaves. “Even though I led all the way, it was a very tight race with Sage’s car always there in my mirrors. I was fortunate that he was never able to get a run on me and try to pass, which might have worked out well for Connor, but probably not for Sage or I. I’m so happy to be able to repay the JDC Motorsports team for all their hard work during the season, and my family and sponsors for all their help and faith. We’ll go to the awards banquet tomorrow, take it easy for a few days and then get to work on what I’m going to race next year.”
De Phillippi had a similarly forward-looking attitude about his season.
“The season started off just like we wanted, then we hit a really bad patch that tested the Juncos Racing team to the limits,” said De Phillippi. “Like the champions they are, they pull themselves – and me – through it and we’re happy to finish the season on the podium. Like Gabby, I’m going to be working harder than ever during the off season to make sure my open-wheel career continues on an upward path. And I’d like to thank Mazda for the tremendous driver development program they put together; without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Though there was a considerable gap between the first two cars and De Phillippi, the rest of the field was a tight little scrum of cars battling wheel to wheel in every corner.
The on-track struggle for supremacy between Juncos Racing Team Viso Venezuela teammates Diego Ferreria and Bruno Palli had fans on their feet, as did the similarly no-quarter-given race between Team Pelfrey teammates Petri Suvanto and Gustavo Menezes.
Zach Veach was higher up in the mix until an unforced spin dropped him out of the top-three and down to finish 8th, and the multi-car battle between Ashley Freiberg and newcomer Scott Anderson saw them change places several times per lap.