Coping with an ever-evolving racing environment – a railroad track ski-jump on Friday that evolved into a chicane ski jump on Saturday and a tire-mountain / blind turn chicane on Sunday… all topped by a change from the series' usual standing start to a rolling start – it was Sage Karam, rebounding from a big crash in Saturday's Race 1 who crossed the finish line first in the #88 Andretti Autosport / Comfort Revolution Mazda. This was his third victory of the season, his second on a street circuit and it moved him back up to second in the points championship.
Following Karam under the flag – albeit ten seconds back – was yesterday's winner and championship points leader Jack Hawksworth in the #82 Team Pelfrey / TORGOEN Swiss Watches / EXA Networks Mazda. Even with a 2nd-place finish, he now has a 61-point lead heading into the final three races of the season. The final podium spot was taken by Connor De Phillippi in the #2 Juncos Racing / ModSpace Racing / One24 Mazda; the podium, his second of the weekend, seems to mark an end to the streak of bad luck that followed him through the mid-part of the season.
"This was really a validation for me after yesterday's crash that we are consistent championship contenders," said an obviously pleased Karam. "The Andretti team did a tremendous job getting my car back together yesterday and they gave me the quickest car in the field for today's race. Jack has a really big lead in the championship right now, but I'm good at coming from the back and we won't give up fighting for the race win and the championship until it's all decided. I want to thank Michael Andretti, my family, sponsors and team for helping me get here."
With a maximum of 91 points remaining to be won, four drivers remain in contention for the championship; Hawksworth (342 points), Karam (281), De Phillippi (259) and Gabby Chaves (273) whose remarkable top-3 or top-5 consistency during the season suffered a blow today with a 9th place finish.
Contact with another car early in the race affected the handling of his #19 JDC Motorsports / CLARO / Marca Colombia / Tecpro Mazda and he did well to keep it in the top-10.
While the defining action in yesterday's Race 1 took place in the closing laps with Karam's crash into the wall exiting the controversial chicane, the shape of today's race was dictated on the first lap when Hawksworth grazed the wall with his left-front tire on the first lap and from there was in 'points preservation mode.'
"The hit happened early and from there on I was just trying to drive smart instead of as fast as possible to keep my championship points lead," said Hawksworth. "In many ways, today's result was one of the most important of the season, because if I had hit a bit harder, it would have changed the complexion of the championship considerably. As it is, we go into Mazda Raceway next weekend with a 61-point lead; now we just have to maintain focus and try and clinch the championship there."
Hawksworth's Team Pelfrey teammate, Finnish racer Petri Suvanto, also put in a tremendous drive, falling back through the field after contact when Chaves tried an overly-optimistic passing move; he survived and raced his way back up to a 4th-place finish in the #81 Team Pelfrey / Mazda Road to Indy Mazda. Suvanto was the 2011 USF2000 champion and is racing is Star Mazda this year with scholarship funding from the Mazda Road to Indy. Ashley Freiberg, the lone female in the field scored yet another top-10 finish in her #91 JDC Motorsports / TrueCar Mazda.
The Baltimore race will air on Velocity at 12 Noon, Saturday, Sept. 29.