Jason Saini scored second place
in the final corner and secured his Rookie of the Year title
in the Mosport round of the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge
Touring Car Championship on Sunday. After 28 laps of intensely
close racing, Round Nine was won by MAZDASPEED driver Michael
Galati of the Tindol Motorsports team after running away with
the second half of the race. Tri-Point driver Jim Daniels ran
most of the race in seventh, and crossed the line in 6th after
a last-lap crash took BMW driver Seth Thomas out of contention.
Unfortunately, Daniels' No.75 MAZDA6 was disqualified in post-race
technical inspection for being too low. Charles Espenlaub battled
a persistent handling issue throughout the race and finished
When the champagne corks were popped in Winner's
Circle, Jason Saini was not only celebrating his third podium
finish in his debut SPEED Touring Car season, but his newfound
status as the 2008 Rookie of the Year. Before reaching the podium
though, Saini had to contend with the boys from Realtime, bent
on securing the manufacturer’s title for Acura.
“It was a tough race for me, with constant pressure from
the Realtime bunch - Our Mazdas have the least displacement
in the field, and on the long back straight here it showed.
I couldn't make even a little mistake or they would be through.
Knowing the implications for the manufacturer's battle, I wanted
to make sure I kept those Acuras behind me.”
While keeping an eye on the rearview mirror, Saini was also
watching the 4-car BMW and Mazda brawl in front of him between
Bimmerworld and Tindol, which seemed on the verge of explosion
for the entire race.
“All race long Seth was very aggressive
in the last few turns; he had tried a move on Galati several
times before Herr ended up in front of him. In fact, he tried
it enough times that he should have known it wouldn't work!
I sensed something was going to happen up front, I just didn’t
know I’d have to wait the whole race to see it. Seth tried
a dive-bomb on the last lap, went into the wall, and I was through
along with Cunningham - unfortunately Mazda's hopes for a repeat
of the manufacturer's title were over.”
It wasn’t all bad though, as Saini crossed the line in
second, he clinched the Rookie of the Year title with one race
remaining. “It's a dream come true!” exclaimed Jason,
“I have to thank Mazda for the amazing MAZDASPEED Motorsports
Development Ladder. The opportunity to drive with a top team
like Tri-Point is just awesome; the team works so hard, and
frankly they haven’t had the year they deserve with all
their hard work. To validate Mazda's commitment to bring talent
up through the ranks by finishing the way we have is so important.
Whether I end up fourth or fifth in the championship, it will
be a successful year for me - I'm just looking forward to another
track I know well at Road Atlanta - with a bit of the pressure
off we can go for the win and have a great battle there!”
Unfortunately, for the rest of the Tri-Point squad, Round Nine
proved less fruitful. After qualifying the No. 75 MAZDASPEED/StopTech/Racing
Hart MAZDA6 in 7th, Jim Daniels was determined to bring home
a podium finish for Mazda. However, his forward progress was
impeded by an exhaust leak early in the race that required all
his concentration just to stay in contention.
"It was about as hot and as tiring and as difficult a race
as I've run in about 5 years, championship events or not! I
don't know if I had a cracked header or what, but I started
getting strong exhaust fumes in the car and my eyes started
burning early in the race. That made it a challenge not only
to hold off some of the best drivers in the country, but to
drive down the straightaway with one eye closed and one hand
out the window scooping some fresh air in.
"After all the hours the crew put in this week, I'm very
disappointed for the team after working till 11 or 12 each night
that I couldn't get a fast lap, or mix it up out there more
to pay them back for their hard work."
Daniels' car would ultimately be disqualified during the post-race
tech inspection for being too low, likely the result of hitting
a curb in Turn Five. Daniels remained upbeat despite the setback.
"The DQ should not erase all the hard work the guys did
this week, trying to find every hundredth of a second out on
track. I learned a lot as a driver this week, and we're going
to come out to the finale in Atlanta with a strong car and see
what we can do."
Teammate Charles Espenlaub struggled a bit during the race to
maintain pace, as his No. 73 Mazda Touring Car suffered from
a handling issue that left Charles fighting to make up valuable
tenths of a second on his rivals. He lamented, “The car
had just a little less front end grip than we needed, so I could
only match the lap times of the guys up front if I over-drive
the car and even then, only for a lap or two.
“In World Challenge, there isn’t a team out here
who isn’t trying their hardest to beat the next guy, so
you have to be 100% dialed in 100% of the time or you’ll
suffer. The car or the driver can’t be off at all without
other drivers making a mistake or the pace car coming out. I’m
confident the guys will have the car nailed down when we get
to Atlanta. I can’t wait!”
The Tri-Point squad is heading back to their Canoga Park headquarters
for nearly a month of MAZDA6 TLC, as they prepare for the final
showdown of the 2008 SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring
Car Championship season at Road Atlanta.
Sunday’s SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge
Touring Car race from Mosport airs Wednesday, August 27th at
12:00pm Eastern on SPEED. The series now heads to the Petit
LeMans at Road Atlanta for the final round of the SCCA SPEED
Touring Car series, October 1-4, 2008.
The Tri-Point team is proudly supported by the
following sponsors whose involvement is critical to the team’s
2008 efforts and continued success.
Mazda, MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development, Racing
Hart, Comptech, Sachs, Stop Tech, Sparco, Chase Cam, Crocotile,
Quarter Master, Ron Davis Racing, Hawk, Pro Parts USA,
Mazdas247.com, and Race Sign Specialists.