Canada's future stars get shot at big time
The rising Canadian stars of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear will be battling for their shot at the big time at Quebec’s fourth big auto race in 2007, the GP3R at Trois Rivières, August 17 - 19.
The Star Mazda Championship is the Junior A hockey of open-wheel racing, an exciting, competitive and well-established training ground for future stars of the sport. The cream of the crop will graduate to the Champ Car Atlantic series (racing’s equivalent of the American Hockey League), and from there to racing’s NHL, the Champ Car World Series.
Graduates of the Star Mazda Championship include such top open-wheel racers as Champ Car star Graham Rahal and IRL standout Marco Andretti, as well as Canadian Atlantic series racers James Hinchcliffe and Kevin Lacroix. Proving its versatility as a training ground, other Star Mazda standouts have also gone on to high profile careers in various areas of racing; 2002 Mosport winner Guy Cosmo is now a top sports car racer while 2004 Mosport winner and series champion Michael McDowell has raced both prototypes and Champ Cars and is now making a name for himself as a front-runner in the ARCA stock car series with recent back-to-back victories.
This year’s crop of young lions clawing their way to the top of the Star Mazda Championship includes three Canadians – Quebec’s Devin Cunningham, Toronto’s Marco Di Leo and Vancouver racer Lorenzo Mandarino. All three Canadians competing in the 2007 Star Mazda Championship are accomplished racers; all have one win, all are in the top-10 in the championship battle and all are a threat to repeat that victory on any given weekend.
Quebec racer Devin Cunningham won the Discovery Channel’s ‘Star Racer’ competition in 2006, and is racing his prize – the #33 AIM Autosport/Discovery Channel Mazda. A top kart racer, Cunningham won Round Five of the Star Mazda Championship at Portland. Cunningham finished 2nd in Toronto but had a difficult weekend at Road America, finishing 6th. He is currently fifth in the championship with 233 points.
“This will be my first time racing at the Trois Rivières track, but I’m really looking forward to being back in front of a home town crowd,” says the 19 year-old native of St. Bruno, Quebec. “It should be an interesting race, but we have a really good street circuit setup and the AIM Autosport team gives me a great car every weekend. We just have to do what we did in Toronto, keep it all together and run at the front.”
Toronto’s Marco Di Leo, driver of the #21 Maxwell Paper Racing/Nugget Mazda, won the season-opener in Sebring. He was the 2006 Skip Barber National Championship runner-up and in 2005 was the 2005 Skip Barber Scholarship winner, Team Sunoco Ultra 94 member and F2000 Bridgestone Series champion. Di Leo qualified on the pole at Road America but fuel pressure problems dropped him down the finishing order to 8th. He is currently fourth in the championship with 242 points.
Lorenzo Mandarino, driver of the #23 Newway Forming/Team G.Fro Mazda, won Round Four at Salt Lake City. Like Cunningham, he has an extensive karting background with eleven karting championships since 1966 and winner of the Super Pro class in the 2005 SKUSA Supernational. Mandarino had difficult weekends at both Toronto, finishing 18th, and Road America, where he finished one lap down in 20th. He is currently ninth in the championship with 203 points.
Making his debut at GP3R driving for Andersen Racing, one of the top teams in the Star Mazda Championship, is 18 year-old Montreal native Yannick Hoffman who has raced the past two seasons in the Formula BMW USA Series.
Dominating the Star Mazda Championship battle so far is 18 year-old Dane Cameron, the young Californian who has scored three wins, four poles and three 2nd-place finishes, including Road America. He currently leads Road America race winner Ron White by 53 points (303 vs. 250), but the Star Mazda series awards 44 points for a win so no driver in the top-10 can afford to relax for an instant.
Also top contenders for victory at Mosport are Australian James Davison (#7 Easternats/Velocity Motorsports Mazda), England’s Jonny Baker (#6 Andersen Racing Mazda) and even an extremely fast young lady from Switzerland, Natacha Gachnang (#35 AIM Autosport Mazda), who made Star Mazda series history by scoring back-to-back podium finishes in Rounds 5 and 6.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Star Mazda Championship “Master Class” racers include 50 year-old Steve Hickham of Corpus Christi, Texas (#17 HB Turbo/Hickham Motorsports) and 64 year-old Dan Tomlin Jr. of Dallas, Texas (#58 Team Tomlin). Tomlin races with his son and business partner, 42 year-old Dan Tomlin III (#56 Team Tomlin). Also in the Master Class is Gerry Kraut, 56, from North Oaks, Minnesota (#55 Dougherty and Company/JDC Motorsports). These ‘gentlemen racers’ may not be fighting for the win, but do run regularly in the top half of the field – and they love to race, happy to be out there and mixing it up with drivers who will be the stars of tomorrow.
All the drivers in the 12-race 2007 Star Mazda Championship are racing identical high-tech open-wheel cars. The Star Mazda race car features a carbon fiber chassis, fully-adjustable suspension and paddle shifters on the steering wheel, just like both Champ Car and Formula One. Powering all of the Star Mazda race cars is Mazda’s legendary rotary engine that produces 240 horsepower, top speeds of 150 mph and 0 to 60 mph acceleration of 2.4 seconds. And the engine is so reliable that it can last an entire racing season, or longer, between re-builds. This helps keep the cost of racing in Star Mazda down to a fraction of the budget required to compete in any other open wheel series in the U.S. or Europe.
And here’s the story on what the young lions are all fighting for; forty years ago, on May 31, 1967, Mazda introduced the first street car with a rotary engine, the Cosmo Sport. Since then, they’ve built two million rotary-engined vehicles and the company has built its very identity on the idea of Zoom-Zoom and every vehicle they produce having the soul of a sports car.
In pursuit of that ideal, Mazda has created a unique, company-sponsored ‘motorsports ladder’ that reaches all the way from karting to Champ Car. The winner of a shootout among 2007 karting champions will get a scholarship in the 2008 Skip Barber series, while the Skip Barber champion moves up to Star Mazda, the Star Mazda champion moves up to the Champ Car Atlantic Series Powered by Mazda and the Atlantic champion gets $2 million, provided by Champ Car, toward a Champ Car drive. So they’re all racing for a dream, and the opportunity of a lifetime.
The GP3R is Round 9 of the 12-race 2007 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. On-track Star Mazda action at Trois Rivières begins with an 11:20 am – 12:10 pm practice session on Friday, August 17. A second session in the afternoon is scheduled for 3:20 pm to 4:00 pm.
Qualifying will take place from 11:25 am to 12:10 pm on Saturday, August 28, with the 36-lap/60-minute Star Mazda race scheduled to take the green flag at 1:30 pm, Sunday, August 19.
Star Mazda races are broadcast on the SPEED Channel, with the GP3R event scheduled to air on Monday, August 27 at 3:00 pm. To find out when future Star Mazda races will air, log on to www.speedtv.com/programs.
For more information on the Star Mazda Championship and its drivers, as well as the Mazda Motorsports ladder system, please visit www.starmazda.com and www.mazdausa.com.