New Jersey Motorsports Park -- The last time we heard from Michael Furfari, the 16-year old driver of the #13 Juncos Racing / Furfari Paving Mazda, he had amazed one and all by turning the fastest lap during two days of Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear testing at the Milwaukee Mile oval… his first time ever on an oval. A 'true rookie' in a field full of 'technical rookies,' Furfari is the shortest (5-ft. 5-in.), lightest (120 lbs.) and youngest (turned 16 just before the season opener at Sebring) in the Star Mazda Championship.
And now he's done it again, setting the fastest lap of the day, a 1:15.903 sec., in the first practice session of the day. Unfortunately, his times in the remaining two sessions of the day were abysmal, right at the tail end of the field. Mix that in with the fact that Furfari's best finish in three races so far this year was 9th at Miller Motorsports Park, preceded by a 25th at VIR and a 12th in the season-opener at Sebring. It would be tempting to write these two fast laps off as a fluke, save that he backed up his Milwaukee time with another lap just 1/100ths of a second slower; and he did set his fastest lap at New Jersey Motorsports Park on the coldest, dirtiest, most un-fast track conditions of the entire day.
So what emerges, tentatively, is a portrait of a driver too young and experienced to have developed any real race craft – but with blinding speed and nerves of steel for a lap – or two. Not an unfamiliar story with genuinely hot young drivers, and something that bears watching. Can he stretch that speed out over more and more laps, and on to full race length? If so, the last half of the 2009 season could be interesting indeed.
The second-fast lap (1:15.939, in the final session) was by Englishman Richard Kent, last year's 'mystery driver' who ran only one race – the season-ender at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – destroying the established order in the process with a lap record pole effort and a flag-to-flag parade to take his first win. He took the pole at this year's season-opener at Sebring and finished second, missed Round 2 due to a non-racing injury and came back to finish 4th at Miller Motorsports Park. He's currently 8th in the championship, but that won't last long.
Third-fast on the day (1:15.968 sec.) was the man you'd expect to annihilated everyone else, current points leader and winner of two of the three races so far this season, Englishman Adam Christodoulou, driver of the #11 JDC Motorsports / Molecule Mazda. He's made a practice of being fastest in virtually every practice session leading up to a race, and turned the fastest lap on the Star Mazda series test on the Iowa Speedway oval… no small feat for a hard-core road racer raised on corkscrew tracks turned into weekly tests of nerve and car control by the omnipresent European rain.
There were no great surprises in the remainder of the top-5; Canadian Mikael Grenier 4th-fast in his #17 Andersen Racing / NAPA Auto Parts / CAA-Quebec / HS Telecom Mazda, followed by another driver who has yet to show his full potential, 2008 FF2000 Champions Anders "the Viking" Krohn, who turned a lap of 1:16.052 sec.) in his #27 Mundill / Trallfa / Colosseum Mazda. Pleasant surprises on the day included a 6th-fast 1:16.072 from Brazilian racer Caio Lara in #19 JDC Motorsports / MLD / ATW/ Molecule Mazda and a 7th-fast 1:16.173 from another driver coming into his own this season, American Rusty Mitchell in the #66 Mitchell Motorsports / Motorola Mazda.
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