For Australian James Kovacic, Connecticut seemed an unlikely destination to celebrate his 16th birthday, but since the Formula BMW Americas schedule took him to Lime Rock Park, Kovacic figured he should do something special to mark the occasion.

The young Team Apex pilot became the first driver to win a Formula BMW Americas race from a starting spot other than the pole this year as he came from fifth on the starting grid to score his first career win. Kovacic split the race weekend with Colombian-American Gabby Chaves, as Chaves’ victory in Saturday’s first race propelled him back into the series points lead.

Chaves won the day’s first event in dramatic fashion as he swiped the lead from Autotecnica’s Gianmarco Raimondo on a late restart, then held off a fierce last-corner charge from the Canadian to win by 0.032 seconds. Raimondo got a great run coming off the final corner of the 1.53-mile Lime Rock track, drafted right to the gearbox of Chaves’ Eurointernational machine before coming up half a carlength short in the drag race to the checkered flag.

“I caught a gap on the restart and was able to get inside and take the lead, then was able to build it a little,” Chaves recalled. “Gianmarco came at me hard at the end but I was able to hold him off. This was a great weekend for me, as we moved another step closer to our goal of winning the Formula BMW Americas championship!”

Raimondo settled for his second runner-up finish of the year while Kovacic showed a glimpse of things to come by snaring the third spot ahead of a season-best fourth-place run by Dominican Daniel Vela. The win for Chaves, coupled with an eighth-place finish by Eurointernational’s Giancarlo Vilarinho, moved Chaves into the points lead.

The second race was a fierce battle, run under sunny skies and the hottest temperatures of the weekend. Alex Ellis controlled the race from the pole for the first 13 laps, while Kovacic steadily made his way through the field. The Aussie moved to fourth on Lap 5, was third by Lap 7, and dashed by Chaves for second after just one more orbit of the LRP circuit. He then set his sights on Ellis, chasing him for nearly three full laps before an Ellis spin promoted Kovacic to the lead.

Kovacic held off strong challenges from Chaves and Raimondo over the next two laps, but was equal to the task, stretching his lead to a full second before a Robert Garcia crash brought out the yellow flag under which the race would eventually end.

“I can’t even explain how happy I am about getting my first win,” grinned Kovacic. “I don’t know what our Team Apex guys did to this car but it was really fast. I tried to keep out of trouble, find good spots to make my passes and drive hard.”

Chaves held on for second and maintained his streak of finishing on the podium in every race through the nine rounds of 2009. Raimondo finished third for his sixth podium of the year while Brazilian Joao Horto set a new career high by bringing his Team Apex machine home in fourth. Horto’s countryman Vilarinho rebounded from a tough opening race to round out the top five.

The series will compete at the 4.048-mile Road America layout with a tripleheader August 14-16, and will wrap up the 2009 schedule with a doubleheader at Mosport two weeks later.