Mazda Road to Indy – 2011 Night Before the 500

I know this is rather tardy, but give a fella a break. Last weekend was extremely busy!! Keep in mind that first and foremost, we’re fans. Perhaps we have delusions of being media-types, but we do all have real jobs and real families and friends. We love what we’re able to do here at OpenPaddock, but on a holiday weekend such as Memorial Day, you’ll forgive us if we put our family and friends at the top of the schedule priority. Getting back to business, the Mazda Road to Indy program had its first event of the season in which all three ladder series that are part of the program competed on the same night at the same track. The Cooper Tires presents the US F2000 National Championship powered by Mazda, the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, and the USAC Mopar Midgets National Championship all raced at the newly named Lucas Oil Raceway, or as we took to calling it over the weekend, The Track Formally Known As IRP. Qualifications went off smoothly, but a heavy downpour delayed the start of the racing by approximately two hours! To the organizer’s credit, however, all three of the races did get underway.

no images were found

US F2000 National Championship
If you ever want to see some exciting racing, check out USF2000 series. Quite often there is action all through the grid owing mostly to the fact that these young drivers are still learning their craft and will often make mistakes that on which their competitors can capitalize. The race at Lucas Oil Raceway was no different. Right from the green flag, there was heavy action between Cape Motorsports driver and pole winner Petri Suvanto and the two Andretti Autosport drivers Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot. Spencer would hold off the Andretti Autosport pair, but would succumb to JDC MotorSports’ Luke Ellery who did a masterful job taking his #85 Melbourne IT/ Line Oil/JDC Motorsports Van Diemen-Mazda from its P6 lowest ebb to the lead with clever use of lapped traffic.

no images were found

He would easily hold that lead until late in the race when Rodin Younessi’s #16 machine would spin out in front of Ellery between Turns 3 and 4 making contact with Ellery and ending his evening.

“I don’t know how I’m going to explain to everyone back home what happened,” said Ellery. “We had the best car out there and I just got taken out. It’s just so disappointing.” — Luke Ellery, #85 JDC MotorSports

Petri would regain the lead and keep it for the remainder of the race with Zach claiming P2. The final podium position would be fought between Spencer Pigot, Belardi Auto Racing’s Wayne Boyd, and Ellery’s teammate Juan Piedrahita driving the #19 Petrosur/GFK Motors/Montopharma/Colombia es pasion/Red Line Oil machine for JDC MotorSports.

“It was an amazing day. I had a problem with my radio and I couldn’t really hear my team. For the first half of the race I thought Veach was second, so I was trying to save my tires and wait for the second half of the race. But then suddenly Luke came past me in traffic. I was still trying to save the tires and hoping he would make a mistake. Unfortunately for him, someone spun in front of him and he had nowhere to go. It still wasn’t easy at the end because Veach was right with me. I would say when I crossed the [finish] line it was the best moment of my life so far; I was very relieved. I never expected oval racing to be this hard mentally. Every lap I learned something. It was great.” — Petri Suvanto, #3 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing

Star Mazda Championship
Unlike the US F2000 race, the Star Mazda race on the 5/8th mile oval of The Track Formally Known As IRP has typically been decided during qualification. The Star Mazda car while more powerful, lacks the low-end torque needed to really punch out of the corners.

no images were found

As a result, the Star Mazda car demands a very momentum-based driving style, and unless a driver has mechanical issues the finishing order is typically no different than the qualifying order. Team Pelfry showed that they’re experience on ovals from their days in Indy car racing was had not diminished in the slightest scoring a 1-2 finish with Connor De Phillipi and Nick Andries.

“This was such a phenomenal weekend for the team. To be top-two with my teammate in every session, showcased the effort that we put into these ovals. I am so lucky to be a part of this Team Pelfrey organization. Dale Pelfrey is the best team owner we could ask for, and the people that are in place around me are second to none. We have the tools we need to win races and the championship, and we will continue to have both of those as our goals each time we get to the race track. Now on to Milwaukee, where we will have the same goal that we had here at Indy…win!” — Connor De Phillipi, #11 Team Pelfry

The one difference between the starting and finishing order was Tatiana Calderon. Tatiana qualified best of all of her Juncos Racing teammates, starting in P4, but quickly fell back in the pack finishing in P9. In spite of the obvious lack of race pace, Tatiana remained upbeat after the race happy to have remained in the top 10.

“It was a solid finish for the whole team. All four cars showed what they are capable of and were faster than the leader at different moments. It was tough that we couldn’t practice enough on ovals before going into the weekend, but we gained a lot of experience and showed that we have four cars that are all ready to win. This is only the third race of the season, so there is a long way to go for the championship. We are going to keep gaining experience and working hard. Thank you to every team member of Juncos Racing. I’m so happy with all of the crew, drivers, and everyone.” — Tatiana Calderon, #10 Juncos Racing

Next stop for the Mazda Road to Indy racers is the famed and historic Milwaukee Mile, oldest permanent racing facility in the world! The weekend of June 17th, the US F2000 and Star Mazda drivers will once again share the track with USAC, but they will also join the Firestone Indy Lights and IZOD IndyCar Series. If you want to see the entire range of series that mold the Indianapolis 500 champions of the future, you NEED to be at Milwaukee! I’ll certainly be there!

Related posts