The second round of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear was contested this past Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL. The race on Sunday morning turned out to be an indicator of things to come as all three races this weekend, Star Mazda, Indy Lights, and IndyCar, would all follow the same pattern. Tristan Vautier started from pole and never looked back, leading all 33 laps of the race and taking the checkers a whopping 39.586 seconds ahead of 2nd place finisher, Nick Andries.
“We knew that the track was going to change a lot between the start of the race and the end, and that tires would be the key to the race. The JDC team and my engineer Rick Cameron gave me a very good car, and it was my job to not slide it around and keep the tires as good as possible in case we needed them at the end of the race. But I got into a good rhythm and the car was very fast without trying too hard, so I just drove at a comfortable pace and was surprised to finish so far ahead. The next races are ovals, and I have a lot to learn about racing on them, but the team is working very well together and we all have confidence in each other, which is the most important thing.” — Tristan Vautier, #5 JDC MotorSports
Meanwhile, behind Vautier, there was all sorts of drama, chaos and mayhem! Tire conservation was the order of the day, and those who managed their tires well, were rewarded at the end of the race. Those who were too aggressive at the beginning of the race suffered from cars with almost undrivable levels of understeer.
“I am so happy with my result. The car was really consistent throughout race, and that was the most important thing. The beginning of the race was really difficult because I was having trouble passing at first, but since I wasn’t pushing as hard as I could right away, I had good tires at the end. I really think that’s why I finished in third. I am really happy with team; they did a great job once again. I’m actually really looking forward to the upcoming oval tracks this year. I think we will have a competitive car, and I’m ready. We also got some good points for the championship today, so I’m thrilled.” — Tatiana Calderon, #10 Juncos Racing
The only major contact during the FCY-free race was between Team Pelfrey’s Connor De Phillipi and Team GDT’s Patrick McKenna. The two racers tried to leave enough room for each other as they went wheel-to-wheel through a turn, but as we would see later in both the Firestone Indy Lights race and the IZOD IndyCar Series race, holding your line through many of the turns with a car that’s beginning to understeer was more than just a little difficult. The two ended up making contact and while Connor would remain on the lead lap, Patrick would finish a lap down in P13. An unfortunate incident, but it certainly could have been worse.
The podium featured three very familiar teams, but with a couple of new faces. Tristan of JDC MotorSports didn’t surprise anyone by taking the victory on Sunday, and we suspect he will be a regular visitor to the podium throughout this season. Nick Andries of Team Pelfrey scored his first Star Mazda podium, finishing in P2. This should give Andries a much needed boost of confidence after his Lap 1 incident at St. Petersburg that ruined a front-row start. Tatiana Calderon of Juncos Racing scored her first podium in Star Mazda competition besting all of her teammates in the final laps having conserved her tires early in the race and finishing in P3.
The temperatures and track conditions this weekend certainly provided a great learning experience for these young racers, and hopefully many of them have gained an appreciation for the finesse and art of conserving your car and adapting one’s driving style to fit the conditions of the day. The next race will offer yet another learning opportunity for many of the Star Mazda drivers as they head to the 5/8-mile oval of Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis to join the US F2000 National Championship and the USAC Midgets on Saturday, May 28th for the Night Before the 500. Oval racing isn’t as easy as many road racers think it might be, and I suspect we’ll see a bit of a mix in the grid next race.