Scuncio tops Star Mazda Friday St. Pete Test

While the overall wind continues to blow from the same direction that was set in three days of Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear testing during IndyCar spring training at Barber Motorsports Park, the breezes are starting to shift. For the first time since Session 2 on Day 1 of the Barber test, Chilean racer Martin Scuncio bested French driver Tristan Vautier – and since he turned the 1:11.413 (90.740 mph) lap in his #60 Juncos Racing / Fuerza Chile Mazda during the final practice session before tomorrow morning's qualifying, he stands as the quickest driver of the day… an distinction wildly applauded by his Juncos Racing team when the final number came up on the timing screens.

It should be noted, however, that it’s a thin margin of victory – Tristan Vautier, the dominant driver so far among the 2011 Star Mazda talent pool, is just slightly over 1/10th of a second back with a 1:11.523 (90.600 mph) in his #5 JDC Motorsports / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda. Both teams have won championships, Juncos last year with Conor Daly's record-setting run, and JDC in 2009 with Englishman Adam Christodoulou… so the rivalry is understandable.

But perhaps the big news of the session was the appearance in the top-3 of Colombian racer Tatiana Calderon, the lone female race in the field. In her second season of Star Mazda competition driving the #10 Juncos Racing / JAC Motors Mazda, she knocked down the doors to the 'quick gentlemen's club' with a lap of 1:11.761 (90.300 mph).

"Racing here last year was good experience that helped me go fast today," said Calderon, a South American karting champion who made the jump directly from karts to Star Mazda in 2010. "But the team is doing such a good job, and we are all working together so well, drivers and engineers and everyone, that I feel very comfortable going fast in the car."

Fourth on the time sheet by virtue of his quick lap of 1:11.828 (90.216 mph) in the morning session (the lone driver going faster in the first session – his afternoon time was 7th fast) was local hero and St. Petersburg College student Connor De Phillippi, driving the Team Pelfrey / Justice Brothers Products / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda. And rounding out the top-5 was Brazilian J.V. Horto, quick all day in his #18 Juncos Racing / Programa Leilões Mazda with a final-session lap of 1:11.851 (90.187 mph)…. putting the first five places on the merged sheet within half a second of each other.

The quickest driver in the Expert Series for drivers 30 and older was 2010 Expert Series champion J.W. Roberts; he was 13th quick overall with a 1:13.471 (88.189 mph) – more than a second quicker than in the morning – in his #65 Team GDT / General Data Tech Mazda.

Qualifying, scheduled for 8:05 – 8:50 am tomorrow morning, promises to be exciting. Round 1 of the 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear will take the green Saturday afternoon at 4:10 pm.

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