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Aug 26, 2014 - 07:58 PM
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M1's Donato Wins Hard-Charger Award
Posted by: newsla on Aug 26, 2014 - 07:53 PM
M1's Donato Wins Hard-Charger Award

M1 Racing's Felipe Donato won the Quarter Master Hard-Charger Award after he advanced seven positions in the season finale of the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires Saturday at Sonoma Raceway. His teammate, Carlos Conde, finished second in the Expert class for drivers over 35 as the pair laid the groundwork for even better finishes in 2015.


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Donato, of Guarani das Missoes, Brazil, seemed destined for a top-10 finish on Saturday. Even though he started 20th in a field of 21, the rookie was already in 12th place by the end of lap one despite being involved in a multi-car accident in Turn 2 on the first lap.

He was given a drive-through penalty for his role in the opening-lap tussle, although the team argued that he was simply taking evasive action and did not deserve to be penalized. The officials did not agree and Donato served the penalty on lap six, dropping from 12th to 19th and last position, almost 4 seconds behind the next-to-last driver.

Donato was nearly 5 seconds behind the 18th-place driver on lap 11 of what turned out to be an 18-lap race, but he hadn't given up.

He stayed at the rear until the last two laps of the race, which makes his hard-charger award even the more remarkable. He was even dealing with a bent toe-link at the end of the race. But his perseverance was rewarded when he moved from 19th to 13th at the end after Scott Hargrove and Michael Johnson retired with mechanical difficulties and he passed Ryan Booth, Conde and Bobby Eberle.

Conde placed 15th overall in Saturday's race and second in the Expert class. The Scarsdale, N.Y.-based driver was just 1.0797 seconds behind the Expert class champion, Eberle, at the checkered flag, and he completed all 18 laps. His #23 is sponsored by the Monticello Motor Club.

Ironically both drivers set their fastest lap of the weekend on lap 12 of Saturday's race. Donato posted a 1:34.770 (89.815 miles per hour), and Conde recorded a 1:36.860 (88.643 mph).

The weekend got off to a very rough start for Donato when he crashed hard in Turn 1 of the 2.385-mile, 12-turn road course during the first test session Thursday. Although he wasn't hurt, his #9, which is sponsored by Top House Design and Inova Marketing, was seriously damaged in the 120-mph accident.

The team worked until 2 a.m. making repairs and they resumed work at 6 a.m. Friday morning to try to get the car ready for qualifying later Friday morning. The car did four laps in the qualifying session but then Donato was forced to stop due to a previously undisclosed gearbox problem suffered during the crash.

Team owner Paul Mata rebuilt the gearbox between qualifying and the second race, and Donato used the first race on Friday afternoon as a shakedown run and a test session.

He had qualified 19th before the gearbox issue, but he spent the first six laps of Friday's race in the pits. He did go on to complete 10 laps and he was credited with a 20th-place finish for that race.

Conde started 21st in Friday's race. He got as high as 16th in that event but he suffered mechanical difficulties three laps from the end and finished 19th overall and third in the Expert class.

No M1 Racing driver had the funding in place to compete in all 14 races on the 2014 schedule, and the team finished seventh in the final team point standings for the year. One of the drivers who drove for M1 Racing in some races this season, Nicolas Costa, finished fifth in the overall driver point standings.

M1 Racing's Jay Horak, the defending Expert class champion, placed second in that division this year and Conde was fourth. Two other M1 Racing drivers, Jason Rabe and Jason Bedasse, were sixth and seventh in the Expert point standings.

M1 Racing, which has a partnership with Tampa Bay Jaw Surgery, is actively looking for funded, qualified drivers who would like to join the team for the 2015 season.

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