DePhillippi Wins Star Mazda Season Finale, Vautier Wins 2011 Championship
Leading the entire way from the pole, Team Pelfrey racer Connor De Phillippi, of San Clemente, CA, won his fourth race of the season driving the #11 Team Pelfrey / Justice Brothers Products / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda in the 2011 Star Mazda Championship season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
JCD Motorsports driver Tristan Vautier, of Grenoble, France, who led the championship since the first of his four victories - in Round 2 at Barber Motorsports Park - finished 5th in the #5 JDC Motorsports / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda, scoring enough points to win the 2011 championship and the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship to race in the 2012 Indy Lights series.
"It was a great season for me and I have to thank Mazda, the JDC team who worked so hard every race to give me the best car and all my sponsors and supporters who got me to where I am today," said Vautier. "We didn't have the car to win today, those guys up front were in a class of their own, but we are all very happy to have had such a consistent season and to win the Star Mazda championship for the third time for JDC Motorsports. I'm really looking forward to my first Indy Lights test, and to competing in the series next year on the Mazda Road to Indy."
With his victory today, De Phillippi secured second in the championship while his teammate, Nick Andries of St. Petersburg, FL, started from the outside of the front row and finished second, clinching the third spot in the championship. Rounding out the top-3 was remarkable newcomer Zach Veach, a top competitor in the USF2000 Championship making only his second start in the Star Mazda Championship driving the #77 Andretti Autosport / Team Zakosi Data Backup / Retail Pro / ArtRotondo.com / ADS IT Solutions Mazda. And in one of the best drives of the race, and of his Star Mazda career so far, Team GDT driver Patrick McKenna of Dublin, Ireland raced his way up from 9th on the starting grid to finish 4th in the #33 Team GDT / Motorsport Ireland / Irish Sports Council / General Data Tech Mazda.
The top-finishing driver in the Expert Series for racers 30 and older was Team GDT owner/driver J.W. Roberts, who secured his second Expert Series championship in a row with his fifth 1st-in class (13th overall) finish.
"I feel we had the best team in the series this year, we started 1-2 three times and finished 1-2 three times and I won four races, so that's the great part that we're all happy about," said De Phillippi. "It was the bad luck, the things that were out of our control that kept us from winning the championship, but we brought our A game to the track every weekend, fighting to win every race and I think we had a good chance every weekend. We'll be back next year even stronger and more focused and going for the championship again."
Bad luck struck two of the top qualifiers in the race. Andretti Autosport driver Sage Karam, who won two races this year and had already clinched the prestigious 'Rookie of the Year' award in Round 11 at the Grand Prix of Baltimore, was pinched into the wall right after the green, damaging his suspension and knocking his #88 Andretti Autosport / MAZDASPEED / Comfort Revolution Mazda out of the race just five seconds into Lap 1. And on lap 21, Juncos Racing driver Gustavo Menezes, driving the #28 Juncos Racing / Truecar / Safety Park Mazda, had a shunt that severely damaged the nose of his car and took him out of the race; he was not injured. Ironically, it was a loss of all points penalty imposed on Menezes for multiple blocking moves at the Grand Prix of Baltimore that handed the Rookie of the Year title to Karam.
Vautier, who came to the Star Mazda Championship in 2010 with an extensive resume of European open-wheel racing, won two races last year and finished 5th in the championship. This season, he opened with a podium in Round 1 at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, followed by a win from the pole (and with a 'fastest race lap') in Round 2 at Barber Motorsports Park. He took the championship lead at that point and never relinquished it. He finished 4th three times in a row, on the ovals at the Night Before the 500 and Lucas Oil Raceway, the Milwaukee Mile and Iowa Speedway. He finished 5th when the Star Mazda Championship returned to road racing in Round 5 at Mosport, then resumed his winning ways in the GP3R on the street circuit at Trois-Rivières, where he won Race 1 / Round 7 from the pole and again with a fastest race lap. He also won, from the pole with the fastest race lap in Round 9 at the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway and on the street circuit at the inaugural Grand Prix of Baltimore. He finished the season with a record of four wins, four poles, four fastest race laps, six podiums and eleven top-5s.
JDC Motorsports, the team with which Vautier won the championship, also won the championship in 2007 with Dane Cameron and again in 2009 with Adam Christodoulou. The engineer for all three championships was the vastly-experienced Rick Cameron, who also won championships in the Atlantic series with Lynx Racing drivers Patrick Carpentier and Alex Barron; he also engineered cars Memo Gidley as well as Buddy Rice, who went on to win the 2004 Indy 500. In Star Mazda, he was instrumental in Michael McDowell's 2004 championship. In addition to Star Mazda, the JDC Motorsports team also competes in USF2000 and IMSA Lites.
Connor De Phillippi, also a second-season competitor in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, started the season with a new team, Team Pelfrey; an IndyCar team from 1998-2001 noted for giving young drivers their 'big break' in IndyCar. Owner Dale Pelfrey sold his aerospace company last year and decided to revive the team as a 2-car Star Mazda Championship effort and work their way back up to IndyCar. With drivers Connor De Phillippi and Nick Andries, the team was immediately a force to be reckoned with.
De Phillippi, the 2009 Skip Barber Pro Series champion moved up to race in Star Mazda in 2010 with funding from the Mazda Road to Indy. He finished third in the championship with one win, one pole and eight top-5 finishes. This season, De Phillippi started out in a most promising fashion, with a win and fastest race lap in the season-opener at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He won from the pole in Round 3 at the Night Before the 500 on the Lucas Oil Raceway oval, and won again in Race 2 / Round 8 in the streets of Trois-Rivières. With his victory in the season finale, he finished with a record of four wins, two poles, six podiums and ten top-10s. His worst finish of the season was an 11th-place on the Iowa Speedway Oval.
Vautier won the championship with 426 points, followed by De Phillippi with 401 and Nick Andries with 385. Fourth was Joao Victor Horto, winner of Round 6 at Mosport, with 375, Sage Karam with 364 and the lone female racer in the series, Colombian driver Tataian Calderon finished 6th with 322 points. Rounding out the top-10 were Carlos Linares with 301, Gustavo Menezes with 297, Joao Jardim with 244 and Quebec racer jerimy Daniel with 237. Expert series champion, Texan J.W. Roberts, finished 11th overall with 200 points; second in the Expert series was the racing dentist from St. Petersburg, FL, Walt Bowlin, followed by noted AMA Superbike racer Larry Pegram. Team Pelfrey won the Team Championship with 293 points, followed by Juncos Racing with 274, and JDC Motorsports with 270.
The 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear awards banquet will take place Sunday evening, Sept. 18 at The Clement Monterey Intercontinental Hotel (750 Cannery Row). The evening begins with a reception at 6:00 pm, dinner at 7:00 pm and the awards ceremony at 8:00 pm.