Conor Daly Quick in Star Mazda Test Day 1 at New Jersey
Conor Daly continued his front-of-the-pack ways today, setting the quickest time in the second of two promoter test sessions leading up to Rounds 6 & 7 of the 2010 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. His time of 1:15.990 (102.803 mph) in the #22 Juncos Racing / INDECK / The College Network / Merchant Services Ltd. Mazda was substantially slower than the official lap record of 1:14.744 set in qualifying for Race #2 last year by Englishman Richard Kent, who won from the pole. Daly, who has won four races in a row so far this season, and won Race #1 here last year, doesn’t expect to break that particular record.
"It's so hot and humid here that unless we get a cool weather front passing through at just the right time, we're not going to get anywhere near Richard's record time," says Daly, the son of racing legend and noted motorsports broadcaster Derek Daly. "We went out on old tires in the morning session, and the track was so slippery and hot that it didn't seem worth wasting a set of new tires in the session. We held off putting on stickers until toward the end of the afternoon session and that made all the difference. We tested here earlier and were able to roll off the truck with a good setup on the car and the Juncos Racing team and I are just keeping our heads down and focusing on continuing to execute in exactly the way we have for the last four races."
Daly is somewhat reticent to discuss, and justifiably so, the other record he is hoping to break this weekend. Only three drivers in the 20-year history of the Star Mazda Championship – Joey Hand (1999), Michael McDowell (2004) and Raphael Matos (2005) have won four races in a row. All went on to win the championship in that year, and to move on to successful motorsports careers. A consequential weight to hang across the shoulders of a driver who graduated from high school on May 14 – but he had not problem stepping up to the challenge of winning his fourth in a row last weekend, and on the high-speed 7/8ths-mile Iowa Speedway oval, no less.
In the first session of the day, Frenchman Tristan Vautier, winner of Round 1 at Sebring was at the sharp end of the time sheet with a lap of 1:16.589 (101.999 mph) in his #38 Andersen Racing / Moulin TP / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda. Daly was second-quick, followed by Brazilian Joao Victor Horto (#18 Team Apex / Wabash Capital Investments Mazda) the driver currently 3rd in the championship. Rounding out the top-5 were quick young Quebec racer Mikael Grenier (#17 Andersen Racing / Slow Cow / April Super Flow / NAPA Auto Parts / HS Telecom / Desharnais Mazda, 4th in the championship with a pole and two podiums, followe by American Connor De Phillippi, the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Driver Development Ladder scholarship winner who is racing the #11 JDC Motorsports / MAZDASPEED Motorsports / Skip Barber Mazda with backing from Mazda. De Philippi won his ride by racing to the 2009 Skip Barber Pro Series championship.
In the afternoon session, times came down dramatically, and the list of 'quick guys' shuffled, somewhat. Daly topped the time sheets and second, almost a second back, was Norwegian racers Anders 'The Viking' Krohn. Currently 2nd in the championship battle with a pole, a podium and five top-5s, Krohn turned a 1:16.944 (101.528 mph) in his #47 Andersen Racing / Norse Cutting & Abandonment / Trallfa / Colosseum Mazda. Third-quick was Grenier, maintaining his top-5 status from the morning session.
Next up was proof that sometimes you have to change teams to prove how fast you are, Texan Rusty Mitchell. In his third season of Star Mazda competition, Mitchell had been driving for the Michell Motorsports 'family team,' but between Rounds 4 & 5 he convinced his sponsors that moving to the hottest team in the series, Juncos Racing, was the right move. His 1:17.208 (101.181 mph) lap in his #66 Juncos Racing / Motorola / Petro Communications / HRP Racing Products / Texas Autosports Mazda was 1.2-seconds off the pace, but any way you cut it, he was still the 4th-fastest guy on the track.
And in 5th was Joao Victor Horto, a familiar name from the morning session, and perhaps representative of a hot new team moving up to challenges the established powerhouse organizations in the series. Team Apex ran Formula BMW American in 2009, with Horto, and moved up when BMW pulled down their bucks-deluxe hospitality tent at the end of the season and called it quits. Apex, an experienced team but a rookie in the intense Star Mazda environment, has run strong since the first race and their two drivers, Horto and Venezuelan second-year Star Mazda Racer Jorge Goncalves, occupied the other two podium spots at Iowa while Conor Daly was celebrating his fourth win. It's only a matter of time until one of these two stands on the top step and marks the arrival of a new team to be reckoned with.
The other interesting story of the day was Larry Pegram, driving the #72 AIM Autosport / Tampa Bay Jaw Surgery / Foremost Insurance Mazda. Pegram, one of the stars of the AMA SuperBike championship, is making his 4-wheeld racing debut at New Jersey Motorsports Park, competing in the Expert Class for drivers aged 30 – 44. His time of 1:19.216 (98.616 mph) was 17th-fast in a 22-car field, but given his lack of open-wheel experience and the level of competition involved, it’s an achievement worthy of respect. The quickest Expert Series driver was Californian Patrick O'Neill, who turned a 1:18.267 (99.812 mph) lap in his #64 JDC Motorsports / O'Neill Construction Mazda, good for 13th-fast on the day. The quickest Master Series driver (45 and older) was North Oaks, Minnesota racer/investment fund CEO Gerry Kraut. Also a co-owner of the championship-winning JDC Motorsports team, Kraut was 16th-quck with a lap of 1:18.627 (99.355 mph) driving the #55 JDC Motorsports / Dougherty & Co. / Dougherty Funding LLC Mazda.
All the racing action this weekend at New Jersey Motorsports Park, including the Star Mazda Championship, the Cooper Tires Presents USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda, Mazda MX-5 Cup, IMSA Prototype Lites and the Patron GT3Challenge, will be broadcast live on HDnet. The pre-race show takes place 12:30 pm – 1:00 pm, and 1:00pm – 4:00 pm will be live coverage of the Playboy Mazda MX 5 Cup, USF2000, and The Star Mazda/Visit Florida Cup. All times are Eastern. Rick Benjamin will call the play-by-play, and a pair of well-known racers, Johnny O'Connell (USF2000 and Star Mazda) and Elliott Forbes-Robinson (Mazda MX-5 Cup) will be the on-air analysts. Todd Lewis will be the pit reporter. In addition to the live broadcast, both Playboy Mazda MX 5 Cup races and one of the two Star Mazda Championship races will be cable syndicated across the USA, Canada and worldwide.
The NJMP weekend is part of the partnership between MAZDASPEED and VISIT FLORIDA that includes the 5-weekend, 7-race VISIT FLORIDA Cup, a championship-within-a-championship in which the driver scoring the most points during the five VISIT FLORIDA weekends will win both the VISIT FLORIDA Cup and a personalized Florida dream vacation.
||Connor De Phillippi