Daly on pole in NJ, makes it look easy By a margin of more than half a second, Conor Daly, the current championship leader and winner of the last four races in a row, has put his #22 Juncos Racing / INDECK / The College Network / Merchant Services Ltd. Mazda on the pole for this afternoon's Race #1/Round 6 of the 2010 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. His lap of 1:15.317 (103.722 mph) around the 14-turn, 2.25-mile 'Thunderbolt' track at New Jersey Motorsports Park, while just a tick slower than his best time in yesterday's practice, was sufficient to give Daly, the son of racing legend and noted motorsports broadcaster Derek Daly, his fourth pole of the season.
Starting alongside Daly on the outside of the front row will be French racer Tristan Vautier, the only other driver in the field who has won a race this season. Vautier, who won the season-opener at the 12 Hours of Sebring, turned a lap of 1:15.920 (102.898 mph) in his #38 Andersen Racing / Moulin TP / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda. Vautier, though often quick in practice and qualifying, has yet to renew the promise of that early victory, though his troubles have not always been of his own making. He was leading the Round 3 at Mazda Raceway when a suspension failure relegated him to a 15th-place finish. He is currently 6th in the championship with one win, three top-10s and 152 points.
"Because it's so hard to pass on this track, where you qualify is very important and the Juncos Racing team put a lot of effort into making sure we got this pole," said Daly, currently leading the championship with 217 points. "It's going to be extremely hot during the race this afternoon, so managing your tires to make sure you have something left for the end will be a key strategy. That and making sure I get a good start and lead going into the first corner because if you get behind somebody, you pretty much have to make a risky move to get around them. The Juncos Racing team has given me all the tools to win this race, now I just have to stay focused on that one task."
Having already won four races in a row, should Daly succeed in his mission this afternoon, he will move into elite territory. 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.
Starting behind Daly on the inside of the second row will be Brazilian racer Caio Lara with a lap of 1:15.946 (102.863 mph) in his #19 JDC Motorsports / MLD / ATW Mazda. Lara scored top-5 finishes in both races at NJMP last season and has been a consistently fast competitor this year; he has already scored one podium -- and finished in the top-10 at every race to stand 8th in the championship with 149 points. Gridded next to Lara for the traditional Star Mazda standing start, set to take place at 3:00 pm this afternoon, is Norwegian racer Anders 'The Viking' Krohn. Currently 2nd in the championship battle with a pole, a podium and five top-5s, Krohn turned a 1:16.014 (102.771 mph) in his #47 Andersen Racing / Norse Cutting & Abandonment / Trallfa / Colosseum Mazda.
Rounding out the top-5 is another driver who has been quick in practice and testing, Brazilian Joao Victor Horto. He turned a lap of 1:16.116 (102.633 mph) in the #18 Team Apex / Wabash Capital Investments Mazda. With three podium finishes already this season and driving for the ascendant Team Apex, Horto is currently 3rd in the championship with 165 points.
Also of note, starting from 7th on the grid with a lap of 1:16.551 (102.050 mph), is a hungry young driver named Connor De Phillippi, driving the #11 JDC Motorsports / MAZDASPEED Motorsports / Skip Barber Mazda. He won the 2009 Skip Barber Pro Series and is driving in the 2010 Star Mazda championship with backing from the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Driver Development Ladder, the unique and prestigious automaker-backed program that helps champions at each level of open-wheel racing move up the ladder. He has three top-5s and two top-7s this year and is currently 5th in the championship.
The quickest Expert Series (ages 30-44) driver was Californian Patrick O'Neill, who turned a 1:17.570 (100.709 mph) lap in his #64 JDC Motorsports / O'Neill Construction Mazda, good for 15th on the starting grid. Starting next to him, with a time less than 1/10th of a second slower (1:17.629 / 100.632 mph) is Master Series (45 and older) driver Gerry Kraut of North Oaks, Minnesota. Currently leading the Master Series championship battle in his #55 JDC Motorsports / Dougherty & Co. / Dougherty Funding LLC Mazda, Kraut is both a company CEO and co-owner of the championship-winning JDC Motorsports team.
The other driver proviking widespread interest is 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 1:18.302 (99.768 mph) places him 19th on the 22-car starting grid.
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.
This afternoon's Star Mazda Championship Race 1/Round6 gets the green light at 3:00 pm. Qualifying for Sunday's Race #2 / Round 7 is from 9:05 am – 9:50 am, with the race start scheduled for 3:05 pm.
||Connor De Phillippi