Unlike the USF2000 races which saw the same two drivers, Pigot and Brabham, battle for the race wins clear and away from the rest of the field, the Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear offered quite a variety at the front during it’s opening two races on the Streets of St. Petersburg. The car counts for this first race weekend of 2012 were pretty good with twenty-one racers taking to the hybrid airport/street circuit.
Connor De Phillippi picked up where he left off at last year’s St. Petersburg race, starting from pole. This year, though, he’s moved to a new race team, Juncos Racing. Connor’s race win wouldn’t go unchallenged, however, as Team Pelfrey’s Jack Hawksworth would hound Connor for most of the race. A failed passing attempt heading into the final hairpin, Turn 13, would allow Connor to build enough of a gap to sail comfortably home to his second victory in a row, having won the 2011 season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It also represented Juncos Racing’s first win since JV Horto’s win at Mosport last season.
no images were found“It really was an ideal race in most respects; I got a good start, was able to control the pace and save my tires for the end when I needed them to defend against Jack. I pulled out a lead of almost two seconds during the race, but then Jack closed it up to nose-to-tail right at the end, so we’ll have to have a look at that in the engineering de-briefing, but overall I was very happy with the car that Juncos Racing gave me. My only regret is that the grid for the second race, tomorrow, is being set by the quickest lap you turned today, and while I won the race, I only turned the 7th-fast lap, so I’ll be starting from a bit back in the field tomorrow. Fortunately I’ve done that before and know how to win here even when in involves some passing.” — Connor De Phillippi, #2 Juncos Racing
Things do NOT go so well for Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach. After a sticky throttle and suffering an encounter in Turn 4 which claimed his front wing, his front shock cowling would come free and fly off the already beleaguered Star Mazda machine.
“This weekend has been a big learning experience for us being in the Star Mazda car on a street course for the first time. We are really learning a lot and had a really good race pace, but with some throttle-sticking issues. I was going into turn four and tried to get off of the brakes, but the throttle stuck at about 25 to 50 percent, so I couldn’t slow the car. I ended up losing my front wing but my guys did a fantastic job to get a new one put back on for me. I managed to go back out in the Zakoski Data Backup Mazda and finish 17th. For tomorrow’s race, I’ll start in the ninth position. We’ll have a lot better shot tomorrow and we just have to take what we learned today and put it all together. I really have to thank all of the guys at Andretti Autosport for working so hard and all my partners, Zakoski, ADS, Replay XD, The Young Marines, OMP, and Arai Helmets.” — Zach Veach, #77 Andretti Autosport
While Connor De Phillippi won Race #1 from pole, he did not set the fastest race lap. That honor went to Jack “The Hawk” Hawksworth, thus giving him pole position for Race #2 on Sunday morning. The Hawk would retain that position and cruise to an easy victory. Connor, who ran a smart conservative Race #1 and managed his tire wear expertly, would only post the seventh fastest race lap, and thus started back on the fourth row. While he would manage to climb his way up to P5 before the finish, the multiple full-course yellows during the Sunday morning race prevented him from moving up any farther.
“I had a pretty easy time of it since all the carnage was behind me, though having a race broken up with that many major full-course yellows does make it harder to concentrate and you have to be very careful about keeping the tires up to operating temperature for the re-starts, but the Pelfrey team gave me an immaculate car that was consistent throughout the race and we were able to build a bit of a lead and bring it home well clear of the second-place car.” — Jack Hawksworth, #82 Team Pelfrey
The carnage that Jack spoke about, and that inhibited Connor’s run to the front, began early as Team GDT’s Ryan Tveter would experience the narliest and scariest incident of the entire weekend as he was punted from behind, launched into the air, did a barrel-roll, and had his car burst into flames against the wall outside of Turn 1.
“My standing start was great today! I was flying. The car was great! I was going down the mainstraight, and another driver was behind me but not really close. I checked my mirrors again and I had the line going into the turn. It was my corner. I hit my brake marker, turned in and all of the sudden I was in the air [from the impact of the other driver hitting his car in the rear].
“I barrel-rolled and then I hit the outside wall hard. The car caught on fire then. But I got out really quickly and I have no injuries. In terms of a crash it looked big but it really wasn’t that bad.
“I’m obviously disappointed but there was nothing I could do about it. I really want to thank the team for a great weekend. The car was perfect and I felt like I could have taken a lot of positions in the race.” — Ryan Tveter, #33 Team GDT
With the mixed results for the two races this past weekend, the championship battle is also pretty well mixed. Hawksworth, owing to his P2 finish in Race #1, leads De Phillippi 57 to 47. The JDC MotorSports duo of Juan Piedrahita and Gabby Chaves salvaged the weekend for the team after the disastrous results in the USF2000 races. Juan’s P4 and P2 finishes combined with Gabby’s P3 and P4 finishes place the two right behind De Phillippi with 44 and 41 points, respectively. The combined consistent finishes did allow JDC MotorSports to leap ahead of Juncos racing in the Team Championship, 54 to 51 points, and trailing only Team Pelfrey who least the championship with 61 points.
Next race for the Star Mazda Championship is this weekend at the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL.
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