Ireland’s Peter Dempsey dominated the Star Mazda Series double-header in Joliet, Illinois, by setting the fastest practice times, qualifying twice on pole, and leading every lap on the way to a pair of wins ahead of Adam Christodoulou.
Christodoulou now trails Dempsey – nicknamed ‘The Irish Steamroller’ – by 19 points in the championship, having won two races this season to the Irishman’s four.
“I know it’s going to be extremely close battle until the end of the championship with only four races left,” he said.
Fellow Brit Richard Kent, who has also won a race but whose season was damaged early on by a broken foot, finished fourth and third to rebuild his challenge. Between them, the three drivers have won all but two of the races so far this season.
Race one at the Autobahn Country Club saw Christodoulou nose ahead of Dempsey at the first corner but run too far and fail to hold the place. A late full-course caution led to a restart with barely a lap to go, where third-placed Conor Daly got a run on Christodoulou but could not make the pass.
Dempsey said: “For me the race was always going to be tough because I knew Adam and Conor were wanting to make a fight of it. They’re both hot young drivers coming up the ladder and extremely talented.”
Christodoulou lamented how close he had come to the win: “I got an amazing start but wasn’t able to clear Peter completely and take the cleaner inside line on that opening lap. The rest of the race I was just pushing trying to close the gap on him.
“There was a brief safety car period which was my chance to get by, but unfortunately he played the restart as I would expect any other driver to and got the gap. I was hoping to stay with him for the remainder of the race but I didn’t quite keep my tyres up to temperature during the safety car period and I found myself having to hold my ground for second.”
Kent, who is Daly’s team-mate at Andersen Racing, added: “I got a fabulous start. I got Anders Krohn by turn one of the first lap, and I passed Joel Miller going into turns 13 and 14. Once you get into a rhythm here it’s hard to make a pass. Conor made no mistakes, and you can’t pass a driver here when he makes no mistakes.”
Race two was largely processional, with the top four of Dempsey, Christodoulou, Kent and Miller finishing where they qualified. Daly gained a place by taking Michael Furfari for fifth.
Dempsey said: “It was a very tough race for me because Adam was pushing me a lot harder than yesterday. Fortunately I got an even better start than yesterday and did a good first lap on cold tyres to build a little bit of a gap.”
Christodoulou saw it much the same way: “Sunday wasn’t quite as exciting as it was green from start to finish with no safety cars. Peter managed to improve on his start and I was just chasing him down for the whole race.”
Still, there were compensations: “The weekend here was one to remember as the facilities were excellent, there were thousands of spectators, plenty of autograph signings, TV interviews and best thing of all was my biggest fans arrived in America for the first time, my Mum and Dad.”
• The Star Mazda races were run as support to the Atlantic Championship, in which James Winslow managed eighth and ninth-place finishes. In the second race he was judged to have jumped the start and given a drive-through penalty that wrecked his chances.
American John Edwards won both races to close the gap in the championship race. He now trails Simona De Silvestro by five points.