by: ©2008 JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE, Devin Cunningham won the Star Mazda race at last year’s Champ Car event. This year, the Star Mazda series will be the anchor event of the weekend.

When the Champ Car World Series folded its tent and merged with rival Indy Racing League, plans for July’s Mazda Grand Prix of Portland were thrown into chaos. Without Champ Car to headline the weekend’s attractions and pay for essential services, it was unclear whether other parts of the event could go on. But Mazda has agreed to underwrite some events to be held July 25 through July 27 at Portland International Raceway. The move saves some degree of the professional sports car racing weekend on the eve of what would have been Champ Car’s 25th anniversary. The new event name has not been finalized, but the working title is the Grand Prix of Portland/MazdaSpeed Motorsports Festival. “The Grand Prix of Portland is important enough that Mazda felt the need to step up and help make the 25th anniversary race happen,” says Jim Jordan, marketing manager at Mazda North American Operations. “We’ll be bringing a Star Mazda doubleheader, a round of the Playboy MX-5 Cup, and other races and motorsports.” The Star Mazda series, which was a support race on Champ Car weekend, will anchor this year’s event. The series uses identical open-wheel formula cars powered by Mazda rotary engines, so the race always comes down to driver ability and car setup. Two Star Mazda races are scheduled, one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. The series is going to standing starts this year and features young drivers from the U.S., Canada, Europe and South America. The 2008 series has 12 races lined up; the first took place last week at Sebring, Fla. “This is a tremendous opportunity for our rising stars to shine,” says Gary Rodrigues, president of the Star Mazda Championship, presented by Goodyear. The Playboy MX-5 Cup features identically prepared Mazda MX-5 Miata sports cars and is the first professional rung on Mazda’s sports car racing ladder for aspiring drivers. Like the Star series, the MX-5 Cup is known for attracting aggressive young drivers who want to make their names in racing. Brad McAllister of Portland and Andrew Caddell of Graham, Wash., participate in the series. Talks are under way to fill out the schedule, but fans should look for a public drag-racing event on at least one evening, “show and shine” car corrals for local car clubs, and a number of competitive race groups drawn from local clubs. It won’t be Champ Car, but PIR officials still hope to attract a decent crowd of racing fans. “We believe that if we showcase our homegrown talent on a bigger stage with Star Mazda and MX-5 Cup, we’ll get a good turnout from the fans who used to come for Champ Car,” track manager Mark Wigginton says. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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