The Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear is going to have a hard time of it for their race on Sunday. The drivers qualified on Thursday afternoon and will have to wait until Sunday before their race. On Race Day morning, they will get a 15-min warm-up which is just long enough to check for fluid leaks and not much else. The conditions between when they practiced and qualified on Thursday certainly won’t be any where near the same as they will be on Sunday when temperatures are to be in the high 80s for the race. That could make a mess of the grid as crews try to guess at a race-setup without adequate practice on a track that will be heavily rubbered in with multiple brand compounds.
In spite of JDC MotorSports’ Tristan Vautier’s reservations about the track being different since the pre-season test in mid-March, the results were pretty much the same with Vautier securing the pole position by 0.200 s over Juncos Racing’s Joao (JV) Horto and by 0.274 s over JV’s teammate Martin Scuncio. Team GDT’s Patrick McKenna qualified in fourth, and St. Peterburg race winner and Team Pelfrey driver Connor De Phillipi completed the top 5. My race prediction is that the front three will finish pretty much as they start. The only thing that will prevent Vautier from winning will be contact with lapped traffic or a mechanical issue. It seems that no one can touch the young Frenchman at Barber.
Here’s the official Star Mazda Championship summary.
VAUTIER ‘SHAVES THE BARBER’ WITH A POLE-WINNING PERFORMANCE IN STAR MAZDA QUALIFYING FOR ROUND 2 OF THE 2011 SEASON AT THE INDY GRAND PRIX OF ALABAMA
Indy Grand Prix of Alabama / Barber Motorsports Park (April 7, 2011) – In this afternoon’s Star Mazda Championship qualifying session for Round 2 of the 2011 season at the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, it was French racer Tristan Vautier who proved once again he is the master at ‘shaving the barber’ with a pole-winning lap of 1:21.166 (102.013 mph) in his #5 JDC Motorsports / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda. Starting alongside Vautier on the front row will be Brazilian driver J.V. Horto, who was just 2/10ths slower in his #18 Juncos Racing / Programa Leilões Mazda with a lap of 1:21.366 (101.762 mph). Vautier dominated Star Mazda pre-season testing at Barber with the quick time in five of six sessions over three days.
“The track was very different from the series test here three weeks ago during IndyCar spring training” said Vautier, a second-year driver who scored two wins last season and finished 5th in the championship. “It was a bit slower, because the temperature was up and all the different kinds of rubber on the track from Grand-Am and IndyCar, but we all have the same conditions and my engineer Rick Cameron gave me a really good car for qualifying. Now we have to wait two days before we are on track again, and we will all be guessing what is the best setup. But I think I have the best guesser working on my car, so I feel good for the race.”
Third on the grid will be Chilean racer Martin Scuncio, who qualified on the pole and finished 2nd in the season-opener at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg two weeks ago. He turned a lap of 1:21.440 (101.670 mph) in the #60 Juncos Racing / Bia Comunicaciones / Cable Del Pacifico Mazda.
Rounding out the top-5 are Irish driver Patrick McKenna, the 2010 USF2000 series runner-up who impressed in St. Pete with a steady drive, starting 4th and finishing 4th in the #48 Team GDT / Motorsport Ireland / Irish Sports Council / General Data Tech Mazda. And on the inside of the 3rd row will be St. Pete race –winner Connor De Phillippi, with a lap of 1:21.754 (101.279 mph) in the Team Pelfrey / Justice Brothers Products / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda. De Phillippi, the current championship points leader, won the final race of the 2010 season, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, from the pole; he was the series ‘Rookie of the Year’ and finished 3rd in the championship.
In the Expert Series for drivers 30 and older, the top qualifier was top AMA SuperBike racer Larry Pegram, trading two wheels for four this weekend. His lap of 1:23.261 (99.446 mph) was good for 13th on the grid. The top ten cars in the field are separated by slightly more than one second around the 17-turn, 2.38-mile Barber Motorsports Park track.
The unique Star Mazda schedule at the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama means that teams and drivers will have two days of going over data and polishing the cars – and sight-seeing in Birmingham – before the next on-track session, a 15-minute practice from 8:30am-8:45am Sunday, April 10th. Round 2 of the 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear will take the green light for the series’ spectacular F1-style standing start at approximately 10:45 pm.
Fans can follow the drivers through the course of the weekend via the series’ web site at www.StarMazda.com, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/starmazdaseries and Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/starmazdaseries. Follow the actual race on your computer or smartphone at http://livetiming.net/starmazda/.