Tristan Vautier wins Star Mazda Round 2 at Barber
French racer Tristan Vautier, who dominated pre-season Star Mazda testing at Barber Motorsports Park during IndyCar spring training, put an exclamation point on that dominance with a pole-to-checkered run – building up a 33-second lead in the process – in Round 2 of the 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear at the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Vautier, who won two Star Mazda races in 2010 and finished 5th in the championship, drove a flawless race in his #5 JDC Motorsports / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda, never giving up the lead or participating in any of the drama taking place in his rear view mirrors.
"We knew that the track was going to change a lot between the start of the race and the end, and that tires would be the key to the race," said Vautier. "The JDC team and my engineer Rick Cameron gave me a very good car, and it was my job to not slide it around and keep the tires as good as possible in case we needed them at the end of the race. But I got into a good rhythm and the car was very fast without trying too hard, so I just drove at a comfortable pace and was surprised to finish so far ahead. The next races are ovals, and I have a lot to learn about racing on them, but the team is working very well together and we all have confidence in each other, which is the most important thing."
Redeeming himself in a substantial way with a run from 9th on the grid to 2nd was Nick Andries in the Team Pelfrey / Lithionics Battery / GS610 Brake Fluid / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda. The St. Petersburg college student endured a problematic beginning to his season when a squeeze play at the start of the opening round at the Grand Prix of St. Pete turned his front-row start into a trip into the tire wall on the opening lap.
And, scoring the first podium of her Star Mazda career so far, Colombian racer Tatiana Calderon – the lone female driver in the field – battled both Andries and her teammate, J.V. Horto, to finish 3rd in the #10 Juncos Racing / JAC Motors Mazda. In the Expert Series for driver 30 and older, Larry Pegram, a top AMA SuperBike racer broadening his resume with periodic appearances in the Star Mazda Championship, scored his first in-class win with a drive from 13th on the grid to finish 8th overall in the #72 AIM Autosport / Tampa Bay Jaw Surgery / Foremost Insurance Mazda.
Other drives of note included Venezuelan driver Carlos Linares, driving the #20 Linares Racing / Mindeporte Mazda for his family-owned team; he qualified 14th on the grid and raced his way up to 5th… a good indication that the major between-seasons team overhaul, including bringing in noted manager Martin Bates, have the team headed for a banner season. Nick Mancuso, the experienced sports car racer / extreme adventurer and National Merit Scholar who is making his open-wheel debut this season in Star Mazda, again showed his impressive – and developing -- skills with a 6th-place finish in the #27 JDC Motorsports / Indeck / Jimmy John's / Lake Forest Sportscars Mazda. And young Californian Gustavo Menezes, making the jump directly from the top ranks of international karting to Star Mazda, put in an impressive drive from 10th to 7th in the #28 Juncos Racing / TrueCar / Safety Park Mazda.
The controversy in a race that went green flag-to-flag was provided by two friends, Irish racer Patrick McKenna and Connor De Phillippi, winner of both the final race of the 2010 season and the 2011 season-opener in St. Petersburg. Racing among the leaders at the halfway mark of the race, McKenna in the #48 Team GDT / Motorsport Ireland / Irish Sports Council / General Data Tech Mazda and De Phillippi in the Team Pelfrey / Justice Brothers Products / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda entered a turn wheel-to-wheel and, even trying to leave each other racing room, wound up tangled; De Phillippi, who qualified 5th, finished on the lead lap on 10th and McKenna, who started 4th on the grid, wound up a lap down in 13th.
||Connor De Phillippi
With his 3rd-place finish at St. Pete and win from the pole at Barber, Vautier moves into the championship lead with 83 points. De Phillippi, who came to Round 2 leading the battle on the strength of his St. Pete victory, drops to 2nd with 71 points. Martin Scuncio, who drove the #60 Juncos Racing / Bia Comunicaciones / Cable Del Pacifico Mazda to the pole position and a 2nd-place finish at St. Pete and finished 11th at Barber after qualifying 3rd, is 3rd in the points with 66. Rounding out the top-5 are Carlos Linares with 62 points and Nick Andries with 60 points. Leading the Expert Series is Walt Bowlin, Larry Pegram's AIM Autosport teammate in the #23 Tampa Bay Jaw Surgery Mazda, and JDC Motorsports, fielding both race winner Vautier and promising rookie Mancuso, leads the team championship.