Star Mazda Series – 2009 Season Review
The Star Mazda Championship is a low-power spec-formula series that started in 1999 in an effort to transition young drivers from karts and F2000 cars to the types of winged single-seaters they’ll see in Atlantics, Formula BMW, GP2, and Firestone Indy Lights, and specifically feeds the Atlantics Championship series. The chassis are all built by Star Race Cars, run the 1.3L Mazda Wankel “rotary” engine, and are shod with Goodyear rubber. Teams are allowed to adjust wing angles, suspension set-up, and brake bias, but everything else on the car is sealed. Star Mazda is one of the very few formula development series that runs both road courses and ovals as the series ran both the Milwaukee Mile and the Iowa Speedway. The only other current open-wheel development series to run on an oval is the Firestone Indy Lights series, although the reborn U.S. F2000 National Championship will also run a couple of ovals in their inaugural 2010.
Since its inception, a number of now successful drivers went through the Star Mazda program including Scott Speed, Marco Andretti, and Graham Rahal. Recent champions include the 2008 Firestone Indy Lights champion and current IZOD IndyCar driver Raphael Matos, and this year’s Atlantics Championship series champions, John Edwards. The series has a strong schedule for next year which includes a return to Milwaukee and Iowa, along with a number of events in which they will appear with the Atlantics Championship. Currently, the Star Mazda Championship is sanctioned by IMSA as is the Atlantics Championship and ALMS, but with the IRL now sanctioning the new US F2000 National Championship, we may see the series incorportated formally in the “Road to Indy” ladder in 2011 or 2012 as the series seeks to clarify the advancement path for up and coming drivers.
The 2009 season opened alongside the ALMS and Atlantics Championship at Sebring International Raceway. Several familiar faces were around such as Alex Ardoin, Joel Miller, and Peter Dempsey, but there were several new comers to the field such as Connor Daly, 2008 Skip Barber Pro Series champion and son of the legendary Derek Daley, and Adam Christodoulou, the 2008 British Formula Renault series champion. Although Richard Kent won the first pole of the season, he was passed immediately after both Adam and Alex got great starts. Alex Ardoin got perhaps too good of a start and the race stewards imposed a drive-through penalty for his overly aggressive driving. Alex’s aggression and frustration is understandable. This is his third year in Star Mazda, and spending too long in a development series is a good way to stall one’s career. Adam took over the lead as Alex served his penalty, but Richard was on his gearbox all race long finishing in 2nd by a margin of just 0.504 sec.
The second stop on the schedule was at the beautiful Virginia International Raceway, or simply VIR. One of the great things about watching a development series like Star Mazda is the passion and no-fear attitude of the drivers. Sometimes, though, that same passion that makes the races fun to watch, also brings the race to a crawl. This was the case at VIR as the race was filled with full-course cautions as drivers punted, hip-checked, and dive-bombed each other all race long. Peter Dempsey from Ashbourne, Ireland survived the carnage and improved his 2nd place starting position by one to finish just 0.038 sec ahead of Alex Ardoin. Dempsey didn’t have solid financing to be able to run the entire season, so the win was a lifesaver for him.
Star Mazda, because of its very economical cost of participation, has always had healthy grids, but the car count at the third round at Miller Motorsports Park swelled to 33 cars! Not that the previous two races were sparse, offering 28-car grids. Adam Christodoulou proved to be the class of the field for the second time this season, and being the first multi-race winner of the season. Adam had been dominant all weekend long, and won the pole handily. The race saw a couple of full-course cautions that kept the field bunched up, but the big surprise was Alex Ardoin. On the last restart, Alex emerged from a four-car scrum to take the lead coming out of Turn 1. However, while trying to adjust his sway-bars, he accidentally hit the engine kill-switch! He would eventually get the engine refired and he rejoined, and subsequently finished the race in sixth place. That mistake allowed Christodoulou to regain the lead and take the victory.
Tomorrow – The Mid-Season Grind