De Phillippi Wins Star Mazda Race 2 at Trois Rivieres
California racer Connor De Phillippi, who already has two wins to his credit so far this season, became the first three-race winner of the 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear season with his victory in today's Race 2 / Round 8 at the 42nd annual GP3R at Trois-Rivières.
De Phillippi, who finished 5th yesterday and started 5th on the grid for today's race, took the lead at the 2/3rds mark in his #11 Team Pelfrey / Justice Brothers Products / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda and, by the time the checkered waved, had opened up a 3.4-second gap on his Team Pelfrey teammate Nick Andries, who finished 2nd in the #81 Team Pelfrey / Lithionics Battery / GS610 Brake Fluid / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda. Andries started 3rd and finished 3rd yesterday, and today's results brings to five the number of times he has finished on the podium so far this season.
This also marks the second time the Team Pelfrey duo has scored a 1-2 finish (including The Night Before the 500 on the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway). De Philippi was the 2009 Skip Barber Pro Series Champion and moved up to Star Mazda in 2010 with scholarship funding from the Mazda Road to Indy.
"We actually threw away all the changes we had made to the cars since we got here and went back to the setup the cars rolled off the trailer with on Friday and that's what worked for us in the race," says De Phillippi, a 18 year-old student at San Clemente High School in Southern California. "Nick and I just drove the race we wanted to and were able to take advantage of some mistakes other people made to move up. It really feels like Team Pelfrey is capable of winning on any given weekend, and that, combined with the psychological boost of a 1-2 finish here, gives us some real momentum heading into the final three races of the season."
Yesterday's winner from the pole, French driver and championship points leader Tristan Vautier, started from the pole today and led most of the event in his #5 JDC Motorsports / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda. Once De Phillippi got by, under braking going into Turn 8, Andries also quickly found his way around and Vautier – a victim of traffic and timing and a faultless drive by the Pelfrey duo -- crossed the finish line in 3rd.
The top-finishing driver in the Expert Series for racers 30 and older was Larry Pegram, the noted AMA Superbike racer who races 4-wheeled rockets in his spare time. Driving the #72 AIM Autosport / Tampa Bay Jaw Surgery / Foremost Insurance Mazda, he was the last driver on the lead lap, finishing 11th overall.
Rounding out the top-5 were Brazilian racer João Victor Horto and American Sage Karam. Horto, winner of Round 6 at Mosport two weeks ago, started and finished 2nd in yesterday's Round 1 / Race 7. As a result, he started from the outside of the front row for today's race and battled Vautier for the lead in the early stages, but slipped back to finish 4th in the #7 Juncos Racing / Programa Leilões Mazda. And Karam's 5th-place finish in the #88 Andretti Autosport / MAZDASPEED / Comfort Revolution Mazda was actually a much more exciting drive than it sounds like. Karam was called for jumping the start and had to do a 'drive-through' of the pits, which put him at the tail end of the field; his drive back up to finish 5th was a demonstration of considerable skill and determination. Karam, one of three multiple-race winners in the field (he won at the Milwaukee Mile and Iowa Speedway), is the 2010 USF2000 champion and is racing in the 2011 Star Mazda Championship with scholarship funding from the Mazda Road to Indy.
Californian Gustavo Menezes, the youngest driver in the series, duplicated his performance of yesterday, starting and finishing 6th in the #28 Juncos Racing / Truecar / Safety Park Mazda. Menezes, who scored a podium finish in Round 5 at Iowa Speedway and has finished in the top-8 in every race so far this season, is an international karting champion who made the jump directly to the Star Mazda Championship.
Drivers turning in steady performances after recovering from drama in Race 1 included Brazilian João Jardim in the #39 JDC Motorsports / Shopping M Mazda. Yesterday he tangled with another driver on Lap 13, knocking him out of the race. But his quickest lap was good enough to place him 8th on today's starting grid and he moved up to finish 7th. And Colombian racer Tatiana Calderon, the lone female driver in the field, only completed 26 laps yesterday and was credited with a 12th-place finish. She started from 9th on the grid today and moved up to finish 8th in the #10 Juncos Racing / JAC Motors Mazda.
The results of back-to-back races have made no major changes in the order of the Star Mazda Championship points battle, but has tightened it up just a bit. Tristan Vautier continues to lead, as he has since his victory in Round 2, with 301 points. Connor De Phillippi is second with 288, Nick Andries third with 280, J.V. Horto fourth with 276 and Sage Karam rounds out the top-5 with 267 points.
||Connor De Phillippi