The IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights, and Star Mazda Championship began their three-race Canadian stint on the streets of Toronto this weekend. Sage Karam was fastest during Friday practice with a 1:08.793 and nearly eclipsed Dane Cameron’s 1:08.755 track record, falling a mere 0.038 sec short. Sage’s hope for Canada is to close the gap on the championship leaders riding the momentum of his great results on the two ovals races at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis and the Iowa Speedway in Newton, IA.
“The track picked up a lot of grip since this morning, but between the bumps and the heat this afternoon, I think this is the most physically demanding track we’ve raced on. I wrestle at my high school when I’m not racing and think that kind of conditioning is ideal for these circumstances. If the track stays as good as it is, when we qualify in the cooler morning hours tomorrow, I think there’s probably half a second left in the car and the track… and the Andretti team is doing everything they can to help me find it.” — Sage Karam, #88 Andretti Autosport
Last year’s USF2000 National Champion and Team Pelfrey driver, Petri Suvanto, wasn’t too far off of Karam’s pace, trailing by 0.408 sec with a 1:09.201. Petri, although dominant in USF2000 hasn’t been a front-runner yet in Star Mazda.
During qualifying, some of the regular front-runners would return to their accustom places as Jack Hawksworth claimed pole position for Race #1 that took place this afternoon, Sage Karam would be the other front-row starter in P2, with his teammate, Zach Veach, is P3. Martin Scuncio seems to have found his stride and was the top qualifier for Juncos Racing in P4. The championship leader going into Toronto, Connor De Phillippi, got hosed by the weather as the team’s strategy of setting their fast qualifying time later in the session backfired when a sudden rainstorm hit the track and ended the qualifying session. The premature end to qualifying set Connor back in 17th position for the start of Race #1
With the slightly mixed grid, thanks to the weather, chaos abounded in the 21-lap race this afternoon. The Star Mazda Championship does something that no other part of the Mazda Road to Indy does on road and street courses, standing starts! The start of today’s race left two drivers stalled on the grid, Sage Karam and Ryan Tveter, both with broken differentials. The DNS put a serious damper on Karam’s attempt to climb back into the championship fight. Connor De Phillippi’s P17 start did his championship aspirations no favors, either, in spite of his slicing his way back up to P7 before the end of the caution flag ridden race. The lead all race long belonged to Hawksworth who used great race craft to manage the pace and his lead to take his third win and fifth podium of the year. Zach Veach held his 2nd-place position through the entire race as well and secured his second podium of the year. Rounding out the podium was JDC MotorSports’ Gabby Chaves claimed third podium of the year finishing P3, advancing from his starting position back in P7.
“I was able to control the race and run the pace I wanted, even with all the yellows and re-starts. The Pelfrey team did a huge job to get my car back together after my smash on the Iowa oval and there’s no doubt I had the fastest car on the track all day. The re-starts were useful in teaching me where people will try to pass when the green waves again, but I’m sure everyone else learned the same lessons and even though I have the advantage of starting from the pole again tomorrow, I’m not taking anything for granted.” — Jack Hawksworth, #82 Team Pelfrey
With still another race left to go in Toronto, the championship complexion has already changed a lot. Connor De Phillippi came to Canada with a four-point lead over Jack Hawksworth, but after his unfortunate choice of qualifying strategies, and Hawksworth great qualifying and race performance, he falls back to P2 and trails by 13 points. Having set the fastest race lap, Hawksworth will start Round 8, Race #2 at Toronto, from pole position as well. Zach Veach will start beside him on the front row in P2. Tomorrow’s race starts at 0950 EDT, and you can follow along with Star Mazda’s live timing and scoring at http://www.starmazda.com/timing/.