VAUTIER VITESSE - FRENCH RACER TRISTAN VAUTIER DOMINATES STAR MAZDA PRE-SEASON TESTING AT INDYCAR SPRING TRAINING AT BARBER MOTORSPORTS PARK
Barber Motorsports Park / Birmingham, AL / March 16, 2011 – Coming out on top in a three-way battle for the quick time on the final day's time sheet, French racer Tristan Vautier put in a flier that was 6/10ths quicker than anything he had done before and made him the first Star Mazda Championship driver to turn a lap in 'the .19s' at Barber Motorsports Park. Then two, laps later, he found another 2/10ths, finally recording the fastest time of 1:19.399 (104.283 mph) in his #5 JDC Motorsports / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda.
"The conditions were just perfect for the Star Mazda car and we got a lot of track time to learn about the car and the members of the team," said Vautier, a second-year Star Mazda driver who won two races in 2010 and finished 5th in the championship. "It's only the first test, but it gives us a good feeling going into the first race, which we know will be much different than here, and difficult with the changing conditions you find at a street circuit. But JDC Motorsports is a championship-winning team and we are working together very well, so we are confident, but not over-confident."
Battling Vautier for the top spot throughout the 3-day test – and achieving it in the second session of Day 1 – was Chilean racer Martin Scuncio in the #60 Juncos Racing / Fuerza Chile Mazda. His lap of 1:19.894 (103.637 mph) was second-quick (.495 sec. back) on the day and also overall during the test. Scuncio ran the final Star Mazda race of the 2010 season at Road Atlanta and made a dramatic impression, very nearly taking the pole and battling for the win throughout the race.
Third-quick on Wednesday and also consistently at the sharp end of the field was Brazilian driver J.V. Horto with a 1:20.200 (103.242 mph) in his #18 Juncos Racing / Programa Leilões Mazda. Horto is also a second-year Star Mazda driver who scored four podium finishes in his rookie season and was 7th in the championship.
Fourth-fast under difficult circumstances was 2010 USF2000 runner-up, Irish driver Patrick McKenna, the leading Star Mazda rookie in the field, with a lap of 1:20.284 (103.134 mph) in the #48 Team GDT / Motorsport Ireland / Irish Sports Council / General Data Tech Mazda. Quick on the first day in the dry, he slid off-course and damaged his car in the wet morning session on Day 2, putting an end to his on-track activities for the day.
"I've had a lot less pre-season testing that most of the drivers out here, so we're still finding our way a little bit, but even with the problems yesterday we were quick overall in the test and learned what we needed to," said McKenna, who is following in the footsteps of fellow Irish Star Mazda racer Peter Dempsey who will be testing today at Barber Motorsports Park for a drive in the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights Championship. "Team GDT has given me a great opportunity and great support and given that they won two championships last year (the Star Mazda Expert and Master Series), I think we'll be in the fight at St. Pete and throughout the season."
Rounding out the top-5 in the session was St. Petersburg college student Nick Andries, driving for Team Pelfrey, a Clearwater, Florida-based ex-IndyCar team now competing in the Star Mazda Championship. Andries, who competed full-time in both the Star Mazda Championship and Skip Barber Pro series in 2010, turned a lap of 1:20.690 (102.615 mph) in the #81 Team Pelfrey Mazda.
The weather, predicted to be in the high 70s, was ideal for the Star Mazda Championship cars, cold (in the low 60s) to help their Renesis rotary engines make maximum power, and with a solid cloud cover to keep the track temperature down and grip high. The conditions were such that every car participating in the final early-morning session of the three-day Star Mazda Championship series test during IndyCar spring training substantially lowered their best lap time from previous days. The top-4 cars were separated by less than a second around the 17-turn, 2.38-mile Barber Motorsports Park track, and the merge of all the quickest lap (second chart below) shows an extremely competitive field for the most important season in the 21-year history of the Star Mazda Championship and the inaugural season of the Mazda Road to Indy that will have drivers battling for prizes valued at $1.5 million, including a scholarship to move up and compete in Indy Lights in 2012.
The first race of the 2010 season is scheduled to get the green light for the traditional Star Mazda standing start at 4:10 pm Saturday, March 26 at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.