Jack Hawksworth, the dominant driver in this year's Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, survived a "Zanardi moment" in the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Corkscrew on the last lap of Saturday's Race 1 to collect his eighth win of the season in the No. 82 Team Pelfrey / TORGOEN Swiss Watches / EXA Networks Mazda – and clinch the battle for the series championship.
Gabby Chaves, running hard on Hawksworth's tail for the entire race in the No. 19 JDC Motorsports / CLARO / Marca Colombia / Tecpro Mazda initiated the last-lap pass attempt that nearly collected them both, but survived to finish second and move up to 2nd in the points. During the race, he also set the fastest lap, winning the PEAK Performance Pole Award the inside front-row starting spot for tomorrow's Race 2. Rounding out the podium was 3rd-place finisher Connor De Phillippi, who won this race from the pole last year and remains fourth in the championship points driving the No. 2 Juncos Racing / ModSpace Racing / One24 Mazda
"I reckon this is about the best day of my life so far… and I can't begin to tell you how relieved I am," said Hawksworth. "Gabby Chaves was right behind me the whole race and I couldn't shake him, but he couldn't get by either, so I was surprised when he suddenly appeared alongside me in the corkscrew and there wasn't room for both of us. I knew I either had to let him by and win the race or go off in the dirt and keep my foot in it like Alex Zanardi did years ago. At that point I was determined to win, and so was he, so we were both off in the dirt, but we managed to keep the cars pointed straight and I stayed in the lead. It was a heart-stopping moment, but we got through it and this is just a tremendous victory for the Pelfrey team. We might celebrate a bit tonight, but we still have another race tomorrow, and the season finale after that, so we can't let our hair down too far… there's still a season left to finish."
Four drivers were in contention for the championship at the start of the race, and three of them finished on the podium. The remaining driver, Sage Karam, second in the championship driving the No. 88 Andretti Autosport / Comfort Revolution Mazda, had an off-course excursion in Turn 6 on two consecutive laps and dropped from his 2nd-place starting spot to finish seventh in the race.
"We started the race on used tires and they were fine for the first part of the race; we were able to stay with Jack and Gabby, but they started going off in the middle of the race and I slid off track… and then did it again on the next lap," said a chastened Karam. "That was pretty much my race right there, but I learned a valuable lesson about keeping my head and focusing even when your race is coming apart around you."
In addition to winning the race and setting a new Star Mazda record for the most number of wins and poles in a season, Hawksworth's championship comes with the most coveted prize of any open-wheel driver development series – scholarship funding from the Mazda Road to Indy worth more than $600,000 to move up and compete in the 2013 Indy Lights series – the very series where last year's Star Mazda champion, Tristan Vautier, is leading the championship battle heading into the series' season finale at Fontana next weekend.
"I haven't driven an Indy Lights car yet; I wanted to focus on getting the job done in Star Mazda and not tempt fate by dividing my attention," observed Hawksworth. "Perhaps between the end of the race tomorrow and the finale at Petit Le Mans I'll have a bit of a think about what I want to do next year, maybe talk to some people. But right now I just got off the phone telling my family in England, where its three in the morning, that I'd won, and I'm off to be with my team."