BRASELTON, Ga. – For 37 laps covering almost the entire 50-minute race on the Road Atlanta course, Sage Karam was within striking distance of leader Gabby Chaves.
The gap was 0.579 of a second – close enough to get a whiff of exhaust -- on that penultimate tour of the 2.54-mile circuit for the Star Mazda presented by Goodyear combatants. Karam, who started the season finale next to the pole sitter, was looking for the opportunity on that final lap … a slight mistake by Chaves in a turn, a seam on the twisty course, anything to dart ahead to the finish line.
But in this caution-free race, Chaves wasn’t giving up anything and Karam was pressed to create something.
“It was really equal throughout the race, and I just couldn’t get that run I needed to make a move,” said Karam, who posted the quickest lap time (1:19.744) of the 17 starters. “That last lap I was pretty close and I figured I’d just push a little harder in (Turns) 7 and 8 and I ended up doing a 360. It was more for style I think.”
Chaves, driving for JDC Motorsports, went on to win by 5.383 seconds over Karam. Connor De Phillippi of Juncos Racing, who started ninth because of a crash in qualifying, also earned a spot on the podium. Diego Ferreira finished fourth and Bruno Palli was fifth.
Click it: Race results
“I got a good start and knew I just had to stay ahead of Sage,” Chaves said. “I was always able to get the power down early on the back straight and he was never really able to get in my tow and make a move. I just tried to keep it that way, looked after the tires because it was the longest race we’ve had and it worked out at the end.”
It was the second consecutive victory for Chaves, who clinched second in the championship standings to Jack Hawksworth of Team Pelfrey. Hawksworth did not compete in the event, stepping out of the No. 82 car for Ryan Tveter making his debut with the team.
“Once I started the race and knew I had second wrapped up it was all or nothing,” said Chaves, 19, of Colombia, who is looking to move up to Firestone Indy Lights in 2013. “The Mazda Road to Indy is really the only established scholarship system in the world. This is absolutely the best place for junior open-wheel drivers and I’m so happy we started this year in the Star Mazda. It wasn’t the best start of the season that we had, but we kept working and picked up some momentum toward the end.
“We didn’t win the championship, but we did the best we could and we’ll go home with second place and be really happy with it.”
Karam and De Phillippi tied with 325 points through the 17 rounds, with Andretti Autosport’s Karam earning third place based on the first tiebreaker (three victories to two). It was the one bonus point for turning the fastest race lap that moved Karam into the tie with De Phillippi.
“We did what we needed to do to get third in the championship and that was our goal coming in here,” Karam said.