New winner in Star Mazda

João Victor Horto, a Brazilian racer in his second season of competition in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, scored his first win today in Round 6 of the 2011 season at Mosport International Raceway. The victory also marks a first for the Juncos Racing team which won the championship in 2010 with a dominant performance by Conor Daly, but has been shut out of victory lane so far this season.

Horto, who qualified 5th, drove his #18 Juncos Racing / Programa Leilões Mazda to a 2.69-second margin of victory over 2nd-place finisher Californian Connor De Phillippi in the Team Pelfrey / Justice Brothers Products / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda. Horto made his move into the lead in the closing stages of the race as De Phillippi and pole-sitter Sage Karam braked side-by-side into the Turn 5a/5b complex and both went wide.

De Phillippi started from the outside of the front row, got the best start, led the first half of the 35-lap race and survived unscathed a wheel-banging battle with Karam during the second half. Starting from 6th and finishing third, her second podium of the season, was the series' lone female racer, Tatiana Calderon of Bogota, Colombia in the #10 Juncos Racing / JAC Motors Mazda. Calderon passed pole-winner Sage Karam, then running 3rd, to secure her spot on the podium. Rounding out the podium finishers was Walt Bowlin, the top finisher in the Expert Series for drivers 30 and older.

"Juncos Racing worked really hard to give me a great car for the race and I was able to fight with the top-4 cars right from the start," said Horto, the Brazilian karting champion who finished 7th in the 2010 Star Mazda Championship. "Sage went off into the dirt in Turn 2 but got back on and kept fighting with Connor so I just waited for my chance. They were side-by-side into Turn 5 and I got a run and was able to pass on the outside going down the back straight. It feels amazing to win my first Star Mazda race and now that I know what it takes, I'm really looking forward to the rest of the season. The next race is at Trois-Rivières, a street circuit, and I really like street circuits, so we'll go for the win there, too."

Bringing the #81 Team Pelfrey / Lithionics Battery / GS610 Brake Fluid / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda home in 4th, right where he started, was Florida racer Nick Andries; he also has three podium finishes to his credit. And maintaining his lead in the championship with yet another top-5 finish was French driver Tristan Vautier in the #5 JDC Motorsports / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda. He took the championship lead with a win in Round 2 at Barber Motorsports Park and has never relinquished it.

Pole-sitter Sage Karam, winner of Rounds 4 and 5 and dominant in pre-race practice, ran in a 4-car pack at the front for most of the race, briefly taking the lead before sliding wide into the dirt in Turn 2. He came back and was still fighting for the win but came out of the tire-banging battle with De Phillippi with a bent suspension and handling issues that dropped him back to a 6th-place finish in his #88 Andretti Autosport / MAZDASPEED / Comfort Revolution Mazda.

Observers called this the best Star Mazda Championship race of the season so far, and even with the extremely close and competitive racing, the event went green all the way with only one local yellow. Distinguishing himself under adverse circumstances, a serious practice crash that cracked the tub of his Star Mazda race car and prevented him from qualifying, Venezuelan racer Carlos Linares started from the very back of the grid and brought the #20 Linares Racing / Mindeporte Mazda home in 11th.

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