Driving the #11 Molecule Labs / Alpinestars / Miller Milling Company / JDC MotorSports Pro Formula Mazda, Adam Christodoulou, from Birmingham, England, scored his eighth podium finish of the season with a third place finish in Round Twelve of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear at Road Atlanta, sending the championship battle between himself and Peter Dempsey down to the finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
“Arriving at Road Atlanta for the Petit Le Mans weekend I knew that it was going to be a big event and the storms that had caused record flooding in the area promised to make it a tough one as well with some crew members being delayed as flights were cancelled leading up to the event,” Christodoulou commented. “I came into the weekend full of confidence following a successful test two weeks prior to the event but the weekend proved to be a battle.”
The first challenge of the weekend would happen halfway through the opening practice session as Christodoulou hit the curbs in turn three a little too hard, sending him off course and damaging the front splitter in the process. Unable to complete the replacement in time for any additional laps he focused on improving in the second promoter test session but was faced with further setbacks as he suffered a partial failure of a rear upright.
“I started getting up to pace, making sure I didn’t have a repeat of the 1st session but something didn’t quite feel right from the rear of the car,” Adam explained. “On about lap 4 suddenly the rear of the car broke loose going into turn 7 and I spun. Luckily it wasn’t a fast corner so I kept the car on the track just producing quite a bit of smoke from the rear tires lighting up. At first I thought something was wrong with the differential, as it seemed a bit unstable going into the corners as well as out of the corners. I made my way into the pit lane, whilst radioing in saying something wasn’t right. We put new tires on and the JDC crew checked over the car, only to realize that the rear upright had partially collapsed. It wasn’t enough to stop the car from moving but it was enough to make the car quite a handful to drive on track. It would have been to dangerous to have carried on testing due to the nature and high speeds of the track and with something not quite right, so at this point we called it a day.”
The JDC MotorSports crew went to work overnight to ensure that everything was correct for the start of official practice. Running on older tires, Christodoulou sat near the top of the timesheets for the majority of the session, only dropping to sixth as others moved to new rubber as the first official session came to an end. Repeating the process for Thursday’s final practice session Adam would post the eighth fastest time ahead of the afternoon qualifying session.
Looking towards the qualifying session the team had planned on a one-stop strategy during the 22-minute session to allow for setup changes if needed. The plans would go out the window when a competitor in the early session spread oil across the track, cutting the second group’s session down to ten minutes.
“The car felt good and I was one of the quickest for the first few laps,” Christodoulou said. “It was the best it had been but I couldn’t improve my time so I finished qualifying in 6th. Looking back perhaps I was a bit too cautious knowing there was oil on the track, but qualifying was over and now it was all about the race.”
Jumping off the starting grid Christodoulou was able to jump up into fourth on the opening lap before a caution flag came out for two cars that had stalled on the grid. On the restart he dove to the inside to try to gain the third position but would be held up and was forced to watch Richard Kent slip past on the outside as the cars into turn three. Teammate Alex Ardoin was able to slipstream past as they headed down the backstraight before Adam regrouped and started focusing on regaining the lost positions.
“I realized how vital it was if you were going to pass into turn one you had to be fully committed, I was close to Alex worked the timing and managed to get past and started to hunt down 4th place,” Adam revealed. “We were halfway through the race and I was getting closer as we started catching up lapped cars and I was doing all I could to use them to my advantage. Richard went for a move on Walt Bowlin into turn 5, there was dust and stones kicking up off the edge of the track, they touched into turn 5 and both of them went across the gravel on the exit making it a bit easier for me to cruise past.”
“I was now looking at getting 3rd place, the final podium position, and once again lapped cars were becoming a challenge. I was getting the timing pretty good at when to overtake them without losing much time. Joel got a little bit sideways out of the last corner and I was on his bumper down the start and finish straight, I pulled out and out broke him into turn one and squeezed passed him.”
As others saw their lap times fall off Adam continued to click off consistent laps and was reeling in second place runner Conor Daly when the checkered flag fell on the 45-minute timed race. “It’s a shame the race wasn’t longer as I could see myself catching up everyone in front. The chequered flag flew and I brought the car home in 3rd and on the podium. I’m happy with the end result considering we struggled earlier in the week. I’ve got to thank the team for the massive amount of effort they put in this week, we proved that even during difficult times, when were a little bit off the pace that we can work even harder at it and pull out a good result.”
As the series enters the final round at Mazda Raceway Lagune Seca Christodoulou sits fifteen points behind Peter Dempsey in what has become a two-man race for the title. “I’m looking forward to Laguna Seca, as I think we made a lot of car set up progress during this week at Road Atlanta, so I know the car will be good. Peter Dempsey got the win and extended his lead to 15 points, but as I’ve found out anything can happen during a race weekend, so I’m looking forward to an exciting last race in my Star Mazda.”