Its been an eventful week for the Mazda Road to Indy, for both good and bad reasons. Before we get into the drama filled soap opera that has suddenly surrounded the Firestone Indy Lights series, let’s first focus on the outstanding racing we saw at the Iowa Speedway this past weekend and amid-season new-driver announcement from Jensen MotorSport and Andretti Autosport.
Racing at the Iowa Speedway
no images were foundThe Star Mazda race at the Iowa Speedway started out much like most oval races in this series. The opening laps were an absolute knife fight, but by mid-race, everyone had settled down into a pace and proceeded to click off laps. Those opening laps, however, had some of the best racing of the weekend. Pole-sitter Sage Karam, driving the #88 for Andretti Autosport, and Martin Scuncio, driving the #60 for Juncos Racing, fought side-by-side from the drop of the green flag. Martin would eventually make a mistake coming out of Turn 4, getting his car almost completely sideways, and brushing the outside wall. Martin would save the car and continue several car lengths behind Karam, but still maintaining second position. Unfortunately, he would suffer a mechanical failure midway through the race which would end his day.
“What can I say? We had an amazing weekend overall. At the start of the race we had some really good laps. I was fighting Sage (Karam) for first for the first six laps which was a lot of fun! He came out ahead, but we were still running in second which was still really good. At the end of my run, the times were still the same as they were at the beginning. Unfortunately something happened on lap 44, and the engine went off. It’s not the team’s fault or my fault, it just happened, and there was nothing we could do. Thanks to the team for all their hard work. They work so hard, and when things like this happen, it makes me sad, but we’re going to keep fighting for the championship. Thanks to my family, friends and sponsors for their support and for making this possible.” — Martin Scuncio, #60 Juncos Racing
After Martin’s mistake, Sage had clear track and no pressure for the remainder of the afternoon and brought home his second win in a row. Not too bad for a driver and team who are completely new to the Star Mazda machinery.
no images were found“It’s been another great weekend for the #88 MAZDASPEED/Comfort Revolution team. Right off the bat, I was flat out. With it being our second straight win, I couldn’t be happier. The season is really coming together, and I have to thank the team for everything. Hopefully we can carry it over to Mosport next month. These two wins have really given me my confidence back from last season. Now the goal is to stay on the podium. We’ll be working hard to do just that.” — Sage Karam, #88 Andretti Autosport
Sage wasn’t the only story of the race, however. Although Martin’s day ended in tears, his teammates at Juncos Racing had an outstanding event. J.V. Horto, #7, and Gustavo Menezes, #28, both secured their first Star Mazda podiums finishing in P2 and P3, respectively.
no images were foundTristan Vautier, driver of the #5 machine for JDC MotorSport, would quietly continue to extend his championship lead with a third P4 finish in a row. P4 might not be all that glamorous, but in a series like Star Mazda where driver errors are common, consistency like this is what wins you titles. Lastly, Juncos Racing’s Tatiana Calderon, #10, would suffer a nasty hit during Friday practice for the second weekend in a row. The team scrambled to put her car back together, albeit with an unpainted sidepod on the left side, and she would climb from a P7 start to take her second top-five of the season finishing behind Vautier.
Mid-Season Championship Summary
With five of the ten race weekends in the books, the championship battle is still very tight. In fact, the Iowa results made the competition even tighter. Martin Scuncio’s DNF at Iowa dropped him well back behind the leaders, and loosing a spot to Nick Andries who took over fourth place. Martin is now 25 pts behind championship leader Tristan Vautier and faces a tough final stretch.
Team Pelfrey’s Connor De Phillippi, #11, and Nick Andries, #81, have shown strength this season, but they’ve also shown inconsistency. Their poor performances at Iowa, finishing in P11 and P7, repectively, was a big setback to their championship aspirations. Despite having two wins and one pole, Connor finds himself in third now, having been overtaken by Sage Karam, and 14 pts adrift of Vautier.
There’s no doubt that Sage Karam and the Andretti Autosport team are finding pace with their Star Mazda machine that the didn’t have at the beginning of the season. Over the last three events, Sage has clawed his way up from eleventh in points to being eight points short of of the lead. It should be noted that the last three events were on ovals: Lucas Oil Raceway, formally IRP, the Milwaukee Mile, and the Iowa Speedway. The remaining events are all road and street circuits. It will be interesting to see if the speed they’ve found on the ovals will translate to the road and street circuit. Regardless, it should be an interesting battle for the championship over the next five events.
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