Star Mazda Sebring Test Day 1 Amid a field of twenty-one cars piloted by faces both familiar and fresh, it was a newcomer with a distinctive moniker who set the fast time in both sessions of the first official series test day for the 2009 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. Driving the #21 car for Andersen Racing, Adam Christodoulou, winner of the 2008 British Formula Renault championship, set a fast time of 2:00.945 (110.133 mph) in the first of two one-hour sessions held Tuesday afternoon. In the later session, from 4:30 to 5:30 pm, with temperatures lower and the wind picking up, some cars were slower, some faster, but Christodoulou again put in the fast – albeit slightly slower -- lap of 2:01.372 (109.745 mph).
The Star Mazda Championship track record at Sebring International Raceway is held by 2007 series champion Dane Cameron with a 1:59.986. Times are a bit off in this first test because all of the teams are still working to install, and discover the optimum settings for, the upgrade package of aero, suspension and engine pieces that the Star Mazda Championship has made available for 2009.
Second-fast was second-year driver Caio Lara, at the wheel of the #19 JDC Motorsports Mazda, with a second-session lap of 2:01.644 (109.500 mph), a dramatic improvement over his 5th-fast lap of 2:04.135 (107.303 mph) in the first session. Lara finished 8th in the 2008 Star Mazda Championship standings, his best finishes a pair of 5th-places in the final two races.
Third-fast was Joel Miller, who won the 2008 Star Mazda Championship season-opener at Sebring on his way to second place in the championship with a record of one win, two poles, seven podiums and two top-5 finishes. Although his 2009 plans are still pending, he was once again at the wheel of his familiar #20 JDC Motorsports Mazda when he turned a lap of 2:01.775 (109.382 mph) in the second session.
Unsurprisingly, given his pedigree and past success, among the front runners was Conor Daly, son of racing legend Derek Daly. In the #5 Andersen Racing Mazda, driven to one win, two poles and two podiums last season by Tom Gladdis, Daly turned a lap of 2:02.134 (109.061 mph). Daly, the 2008 Skip Barber National Championship winner with five victories, will race this season with sponsorship from the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Driver Development Ladder, the same unique ladder program that provided funding for Joel Miller, who moved up to the Star Mazda Championship after winning 2007 Skip Barber Championship.
Rounding out the top-5 on the first-day time sheets, was Jorge Goncalvez, a Venezuelan racer moving up from Formula BMW. Driving the #7 AIM Autosport Mazda that American John Edwards drove to the 2008 Star Mazda Championship, Goncalvez turned a second-session lap of 2:02.340 (108.877 mph).
Other notables in the field include Alex Ardoin, a two-season Star Mazda veteran who finished fourth in the 2008 championship. Helping Team GDT and Expert Series veteran J.W. Roberts develop their new car, he turned the 6th-fastest lap of the day at 2:02.709 (108.549 mph). And Gerry Kraut, the runner-up up on the 2008 Star Mazda Master Series for drivers 45 and older with three class wins and five podium finishes, was 7th-fast with a lap of 2:03.085 (108.218 mph). Kraut, who is Chairman and CEO of Dougherty and Company and Dougherty Funding LLC, is also a co-owner of JDC Motorsports and drives the #55 JDC Motorsports/Dougherty and Company/Dougherty Funding LLC Mazda.
The significance of these lap times, and the order in which they appear, will become more apparent during Day 2 of the Star Mazda Championship pre-season test at Sebring. During Day 1, some of the teams had fully-updated cars that they were still in the process of sorting, some ran a mix of new and old parts in an effort to quantify the changeover and some are still running cars unchanged from the 2008 season as they test new drivers. All cars, however, are running new ECU maps and an additional 300 rpm (up to a redline of 8,600 rpm from 8,300 rpm) and the cars are both visibly faster on the straights and sounding much more 'snarly.'
Engineers and drivers will have worked late into the night evaluating the data from the two one-hour Tuesday sessions as crews work to further upgrade and optimize the cars for the three sessions scheduled on Wednesday.
The Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear 2009 season consists of 13 races on 11 weekends, beginning with its traditional date at the 57th annual Mobil1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 2. The most substantial change to the schedule involves the series' return to ovals for the first time since 2006 with 100-lap events immediately before the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the Milwaukee Mile on June 20 and under the lights with ARCA at the 7/8-ths mile Iowa Speedway tri-oval on July 10. The schedule also includes double-headers at New Jersey Motorsports Park on June 13-14 and a new addition to the schedule, the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois on July 25-26. Both will be MAZDASPEED Motorsports weekends at which the Star Mazda Championship will be a featured race. The 2009 season winds up at the Monterey Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on October 10.