Mazda Road to Indy – Barber Preview

Sorry for the lack of a MRTI Weekly Update this past weekend, but there really hasn’t been much happening. I’m sure that I could have found something to blather on about, I usually can. Just ask my students! #rimshot But seriously, its been pretty quiet since the three races on the Streets of St. Petersburg. There was no on-track action this past weekend, and there were no new driver announcements, so the news and PR feeds have been pretty quiet. This coming weekend, however, is the second round for both the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear and the Firestone Indy Lights. The Cooper Tires presents the US F2000 National Championship powered by Mazda doesn’t hit the track again until the Night Before the 500. Barber is a tough course to pass on for the wider harder braking IndyCars, but it may produce some exciting action for the lower formulas.

Star Mazda

Photo courtesy of
This will be the first race event at Barber Motorsports Park for the Star Mazda Championship. They’ve tested here previously, but never raced in anger around the circuit. If testing times are any judge, Tristan Vautier will be the driver to beat this weekend, although the Juncos Racing squad also tested very well here. Martin Scuncio posted the 2nd fastest time in testing behind Tristan and just ahead of his teammate Joao Horto. However, keep an eye on Team Pelfrey’s Connor De Phillipi! He won the opening round in St. Petersburg finishing a head of Martin with Tristan completing the podium. Team Pelfrey may be new to Star Mazda, but as we’ve mentioned before, they’re no strangers to IndyCar racing, and Connor is a strong talent behind the wheel. Another driver that could challenge for the podium is Team GDT’s Patrick McKenna.

Unfortunately, Star Mazda doesn’t have a television contract as of yet for 2011, but you can follow the races via their live timing and scoring (which works amazingly well, I might add) at The schedule is rather spread out and compressed at the same time. The Star Mazda racers will only be on track for two days, Thursday and Sunday. In between practice and quals on Thursday, and the warm-up and race on Sunday, both the Firestone Indy Lights and IZOD IndyCars as well as the Continental Tire Series and the Grand Am Series will all be on track laying down all kinds of different rubber. It will make raceday setup for the Star Mazda teams difficults.

“The track changed so much during the weekend that we did not have exactly the right setup for Saturday afternoon, and it will be even more difficult at Barber because of our schedule; we have one practice on Thursday morning and then we qualify an hour later. Then we are not on track for two days. Finally we have a 15-minute warm-up Sunday morning the race Sunday afternoon. Nobody knows what the track will be like then, so our engineers will be guessing on setup and the drivers will be doing their best to adapt.” — Tristan Vautier, #5 JDC MotorSports

Here’s the schedule of on-track events for the Star Mazda Championship (all times are CDT):

Session Day Time
1st Practice Thursday 0800-0845
2nd Practice Thursday 1015-1100
Qualification Thursday 1230-1315
Warm-up Sunday 0830-0845
Race Sunday 1045-1145

Firestone Indy Lights

The action at Barber last year was good although most of the action was happening mid-pack. Early, Charlie Kimball jumped ahead of pole-sitter JK Vernay and took the race lead into T1, but he had made his move after the green flag but before the start/finish line. This is one more incident illustrates something I’ve advocated for a long while. When the green flag flies, go racing! By the way, in the highlight video of the 2010 race below, notice the start. That’s a proper flying start. Drivers are formed up, field is under control, and then the green flag flies. The IndyCar drivers would do well to study this race start.

This year, we have a completely new crop of drivers. Podium finishers, Josef Newgarden, Conor Daly, and Peter Dempsey could show strong this weekend as well, but look for O2 Racing Technology’s Peter Dempsey, Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ Esteban Guerrieri, and Team Moore’s Gustavo Yacaman to be contenders for the podium at Barber as well. However, I think any of the other five will be hard pressed to best Joey Newgarden who has had pace in nearly every single on-track session be it in testing, practice, or the race. Turn 5 will be the spot to watch, as this is where most of the passing attempts were made (and mainly failed) last year.

New this year is that the Firestone Indy Lights series will be covered LIVE on weekends that Versus covers the IndyCar race, and this is one of those weekends! The race will be called by some very familiar names. Kevin Lee gets the call up to Versus to be the broadcast host and will be joined by fellow IMS Radio Network colleague Mike King who will do the lap-by-lap call. The big surprise, and happy surprise for me, is that the lead analyst seat will be occupied by none other that Willy T. Ribbs! Outstanding! As an added bonus, Jake Querey will be the pit reporter for the broadcast. This is a strong team, and their expertise combined with the live airing immediately before the IZOD IndyCar Series race is a huge positive step for a series that saw no television coverage last year and has experienced the suffering their teams’ struggle for sponsorship as a result. This greater visibility, although it came too late for this season’s budgets, will help teams secure better sponsorship packages in 2012.

Here’s the schedule of on-track events for the Firestone Indy Lights Series (all times are CDT):

Session Day Time
1st Practice Friday 1215-1300
2nd Practice Friday 1455-1540
Qualification Saturday 0830-0910
Warm-up Sunday 0800-0820
Race Sunday 1200-1315

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