Mazda Finish Line
Monterey Sports Car Championships, Oct. 17-19

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, California

Series from Mazda’s motorsports development system convened on the automaker’s home track stateside in mid-October to close out the season in the Monterey Sports Car Championships. Mazda-spec ladder players from the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup and open-wheeled Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear, in addition to American Le Mans Series regulars B-K Motorsports and its LMP2 class Lola B08/86-Mazda MZR-R, made it out to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to battle for championships and settle scores.

The action started early Saturday afternoon with the Star Mazda series, when Richard Kent, an English karting champion with a background in the European Formula Palmer Audi series and Formula Renault U.K., put the No. 77 Andersen Racing/Traka/Allied Building Supplies Mazda on pole during a gloomy morning qualifying session. In the afternoon, he started in the lead, held it throughout and crossed the finish line 2.171 seconds ahead of John Edwards in the No. 7 AIM Autosport/Mobil1 Mazda. However, Edwards, with four wins under his belt already, started the race having only to score a podium finish to win the 2008 championship.

Of the other two contenders who still had a shot at the championship when the race started, Irishman Peter Dempsey put together a great season with four wins in the No. 21 Andersen Racing/LotusWorks/Center Jewellers.ie/Quayside.ie/Allied Building Products Mazda. He finished third in the race and third in the championship.

Joel Miller, the 2007 Skip Barber Pro Series champion who won his ride in the No. 20 JDC Motorsports/K&N Air Filters Mazda via the MAZDASPEED Motorsports ladder scholarship, finished fourth in the race and second in the championship. His season included a win from the pole in the season-opener at Sebring.

Also on the podium were Expert Series (drivers 30 to 44) winner Phil Fogg, Jr., driving the No. 29 Northwest Autosport/Consonus Health Services Mazda, and Master Series (drivers 45 and older) winner -- and 2008 Master Series Champion -- Chuck Hulse, who has compiled a record of eight class wins in the No. 12 JDC Motorsports/Silicon Salvage Mazda.

Rounding out the top-5 finishers in the race were Louisiana racer Alex Ardoin (who won Laguna Seca last year), driving the No. 51 Mundill Racing/Oral & Facial Surgery Center/Twister Trailer Mazda and Brazilian Ciao Lara, who finished off his season with a pair of fifth-place finishes in the No. 19 Mundill Racing Mazda. Edwards finished with 422 points, Miller with 406, Dempsey with 398, Ardoin with 365 and Charles Hall, who did not compete, was fifth with 342 points. Fifth-place finisher in the race Caio Lara finished 8th in the championship with 286 points.

Late Saturday the ALMS cars took to the track for the event’s four-hour feature race and the series’ final contest of 2008. B-K Motorsports’ brand-new Lola B08/86 Mazda MZR-R coupe ran strong all weekend long, including the first half of the race, but a small crack in the exhaust header put drivers Ben Devlin and Gerardo Bonilla on the sidelines while the crew made repairs. The extensive job to replace the part took close to an hour to complete, but afterward Bonilla was on his way to take the BP Lola Mazda to the checkered flag.

Devlin started the Dunlop-shod LMP2 machine from 12th on the grid and quickly made progress up the leader board. The experienced Englishman overcame a series of full-course cautions periods and unfavorable track conditions to also gain valuable experience with the new car.

While the final race results might not show it (the team finished 10th in class and 29th overall), Devlin, Bonilla and the entire B-K Motorsports team walked away satisfied with the obstacle they overcame and look forward to starting an extensive winter test program in the off season. With constant progress made all year long with its open-top Lola B07/46 Mazda MZR-R and the encouraging race debut of the brand-new Lola B08/86 Mazda MZR-R coupe, the organization is hoping to keep momentum high during the winter months.

An MX-5 Cup race rounded out Laguna Seca’s Mazda fare on Sunday, where Christian Franck survived the dramatic contest to earn his first-ever race win. Todd Buras and Robert Huffmaster completed the podium, while Eric Foss, finishing fourth, claimed the 2008 Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship.

Franck's wild ride began on the start, as he immediately shot past Huffmaster for fourth from P5 and found himself at the tail end of a four-car battle for the lead. Ahead of Franck, polesitter Foss was doing his best to hold off Brad Rampelberg and Buras. The constant side-by-side action in front of him allowed Franck to pick his spots, motoring past Buras on Lap 5 and stealing second from Rampelberg a lap later.

After a quick back-and-forth with Rampelberg’s No. 14 Hooverspeed/Mazda MX-5, Franck set his sites on then-leader Foss. While in pursuit of the No. 28 Team MER/Autobarn Mazda MX-5, Franck set the Hawk Hot Lap of the race, turning a 1:41.731 (79.197 mph) on Lap 10, a new race lap record.

On Lap 12, Franck made his move, pulling alongside Foss in Turn 2, but Foss had the right line for Turn 3 and held his lead. Foss couldn’t hold off Franck’s No. 16 Alara Racing MX-5 in Turn F5, though, where Franck took a solid hold on the race lead for the first time.

His mirrors filled with Rampelberg’s nose for three-consecutive laps straight, Franck would eventually make a mistake, sliding off course briefly at Turn 11 and falling to third behind Rampelberg and Foss.

Winning a race often involves a bit of luck, and that’s exactly what came Franck’s way shortly after his off. Not only did Foss spin in the Corkscrew on the following lap, putting Franck in second, but a full-course caution came out on Lap 18 for the No. 23 Team MER/Loth Endodontics MX-5, which had spun into the gravel at Turn 3.

On the Lap-21 restart, Franck grabbed the lead from Rampelberg in Turn 5, only to have Rampelberg pull the same move on the following lap to retake the spot.

Race officials had taken issue with contact Rampelberg made with Franck in-between the lead exchange, and as the pair crossed the start-finish line to begin Lap 24 of the 25-lap, 55.95-mile race, a black flag was displayed for Rampelberg.

While the white flag waved for Franck, Rampelberg hit pit lane. Keeping his focus, Franck carefully navigated the final 2.238 miles of the 11-turn course and crossed the finish line 1.269 seconds ahead of Buras. Seventeen-year-old Franck became the fifth different winner of the 2008 MX-5 Cup season.

Foss may have just missed the podium, despite leading the first 11 laps, but a fourth-place finish was enough to secure the 2008 SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship. As the 2008 MX-5 Cup Champion, Foss has earned himself an SCCA Pro Racing SPEED Touring Car ride with Mazda next season.

Buras trailed Foss by 56 points in the final Championship standings (462 to 406). Huffmaster was third with 399 points, followed by Ryan Schimsk (308 points) and Ara Malkhassian (371 points).

Super Lap Battle Final, Nov. 12

Buttonwillow Raceway Park, Buttonwillow, California

Source Interlink Media’s Super Lap Battle time attack series returned to Buttonwillow Raceway Park on November 12 to conclude its season and determine a champion. The invitational culled only the best of the best time trialers, many from SLB’s qualifying events over the year, and included two Mazdas, Matt Andrew’s RobiSpec/Flying Miata 1995 Mazda Miata in the Limited FR class and Eric Bizek’s Cobb Tuning 2007 Mazdaspeed3 in the Street FF category.

The 2008 contest was much more straightforward than last year’s, and seemed to run more smoothly because of it. No weird “micro” class, no “drift class,” just three categories, Unlimited, Limited, and Street, broken down into separate groups based on drive-train layout: All-Wheel Drive (AWD), Front engine/Rear-wheel drive (FR), and Front engine/Front-wheel drive (FF).

The day began with two half hour-long whipping sessions around Buttonwillow’s CW13 track configuration to determine run groups. Drivers had 30 minutes to lay down a fast time that would only count toward their final placing among similarly fast challengers. Each of the five groups would then have four sessions throughout the day to record a fast lap that would stick.

Andrews, who has been dominant all season long, continued his prevailing ways by putting down the best time of his group, a 1:56.187, and 17th best of the entire 65-car field. He edged next fastest Limited FR competitor Toshiki Yoshioka in his Honda by nearly a second, and adds the 2008 Super Lap LFR title to his 2008 Redline: Time Attack! Modified RWD Grand Championship that he picked up weeks earlier.

While Bizek didn’t win his class outright, he still finished top three and was less than two seconds off of the leader’s pace, clocking a 2:05.254 in the Cobb MAZDASPEED3. The winner of the category, Michael Chang, managed a 2:03.557 in his Honda, and in second was Douglas Wind in his Dodge, a mere 0.3 seconds ahead of Bizek.

Red Bull Drifting World Championship, Nov 15-16

Port of Long Beach, California

It was a bold enough plan – summoning the world’s 32 best drift pilots and their machines to the Long Beach port to battle it out for the largest prize purse ever at a drift competition, $50,000. Energy drink maker Red Bull, famous for backing less traditional forms of sports and entertainment, tasked Long Beach locals Formula Drift, the preeminent drift sanctioning body in North America, with putting together the affair, and the team there came up with an incredible event.

First, they collected 17 past and present drifting champions from around the globe, from series such as D1 Grand Prix in Japan, D1 New Zealand, Drift Mania Canadian Championship, Drift Australia, European Drift Championship, Formula D Singapore, International Drift Series, Nordic Drift, New Zealand Drift, and Pro Drift, in addition to pulling from its own teams and drivers. Then they dreamed up the unique venue, a big portion of one of Terminal Island’s docks that was transformed into a circuit through catch fencing and grandstands.

Among the invitees were four Mazda RX-7 and their hot shoes: Ryuji Miki from Japan and the A’PEXi Bergenholtz Racing FD chassis (1992-’02); Mad Mike Whiddett and his Red Bull wide-body FD, complete with four-rotor engine, from New Zealand; and Americans Kyle Mohan in the Mazdatrix FC chassis (’86-’92) and Justin Pawlak with his Drift Alliance FC.

The event’s one-of-a-kind temporary circuit was the largest ever used for an American drifting contest. The distance from its starting line to the first initiation point alone measured nearly a quarter mile, enough room to get speeds well up over the 100mph threshold.

The Thursday before the weekend, the names of the 32 invited competitors were drawn from a hat to determine the order for Saturday’s afternoon qualifying session. After Saturday, Mohan was seeded 10th, Whiddett 30th, Miki 31st, and Pawlak 32nd.

In a testament to the strength of competition at the Red Bell DWC, only one Mazda driver made it beyond the first round of tandem eliminations, Whiddett in his FD. Miki fell in his opening battle against two-time Formula D champion Sam Hubinette, Mohan wrecked in his attempt to topple Australian Leighton Fine, and Pawlak nearly overcame Katsuhiro Ueo from Japan, pushing their battle to extra rounds, but eventually was judged not to move on.

Whiddett soldiered on through the round of 16, going to bonus frames against fellow Kiwi Carl Ruiterman in his Nissan and ultimately triumphing. Then in the Great 8, Whiddett had the unenviable job of dueling with back-to-back reigning Formula D champion Tanner Foust. The result wasn’t what he had hoped for, Whiddett running off the course at one point and incurring lots of damage that looked worse than it really was. By the rulebook, losing drift is cause for a zero score, which Whiddett had to accept and led to his final demise. Still, one cannot tarnish the accomplishment of being one of the eight finalists in the contest to determine the world’s best drifter.