Defending Champs Battle Through Adversity at Sebring TRAFFORD, PA -- John Walko Racing entered the opening round of the Star Mazda Championship Series fresh off of several very successful tests that left the team confident in their quest...
Defending Champs Battle Through Adversity at Sebring
TRAFFORD, PA -- John Walko Racing entered the opening round of the Star Mazda Championship Series fresh off of several very successful tests that left the team confident in their quest to defend their Team Championship.
From the drop of the green flag though for the opening round of practice the team had to deal with several difficult situations starting with Charles Anti's engine spinning a bearing on the first lap of practice. Sometimes the mark of a true champion though is the ability to overcome adversity and to that end, the JWR crew prevailed.
According to team owner John Walko, the crew handled the situation well and his drivers were able to build on their earlier testing experiences.
"We started off strong; Russell was second in the first session and stayed in that range until qualifying. Charles was pretty consistently around the top ten and we weren't really pushing hard early on, we were on used tires - not really giving it all we had yet. All of our setup information from the test seemed to be working and we were in pretty good shape."
Qualifying results didn't reflect the pace the veteran duo of Anti and Russell Walker had been running in practice but the duo, along with rookie Sean Burstyn in the third car were in solid starting positions.
"We didn't quite keep up with the track as well as we should have which is why we qualified where we did - 9th and 10th. I think there was some adjustments we needed to make for rubber going down over the course of the week that may have helped."
Unfortunately for Walker, his trials would start at the conclusion of qualifying when his car did not pass tech. The end result put Walker to the tail of the grid to start the race.
Torrential rains greeted the Star Mazda field at race time. While the rain was not an issue at all for a team quite comfortable running in the wet; the delayed start and several accidents reduced the actual racing to just two laps of green flag action. Walko felt the team could have posted better results under different circumstances but dealt very well with the situation at hand.
"I think if we had a full length race, the race was only two laps, and had we been able to keep Russell's qualifying spot, he and Charles would have both been top five contenders or better. However in the two laps that they did race Sean drove our third car from 24th to 19th, Russell went from 32nd to 18th and Charles moved from tenth to eighth and was on the move. Not bad for a two lap sprint race in the wet."
The tech issue that caused Walker's qualifying run to be nullified resulted in some confusion and short tempers among team members and resulted in a few comments being made at the time. Walko noted that it was an unfortunate situation and extended an apology to fellow Star Mazda Competitors Maxwell Paper Products Ross Smith Racing.
"I'd like to apologize to Ross and Rod Smith and the Maxwell Paper Products Racing Team. Some things were said that were unfortunate in the heat of the moment when one of our cars didn't pass tech. The comments were made out of frustration and not true. The Smith's are great competitors and we look forward to racing with them on good terms the rest of the season."
Two days of testing at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah is next on the agenda for JWR followed by the second round of the Star Mazda Championship Series in Texas as part of the Grand Prix of Houston.
"We overcame some problems and still came home with a top ten. Every single session we put a time down, we were in the top ten. All the way through the event I felt I had more to gain from the driving end so it was a very encouraging start to the season. To race in the rain would have been great though, if we actually had a race. I had one of the fastest laps of the race despite being back in the heavy spray. I think if the race had been longer we would have been even closer to the front."
Steve Dreizler, Engineer for Charles Anti:
"We were top ten every session except for the opening round obviously. That is particularly impressive since Charles essentially ran the whole event a session behind everyone. During the race, which was heavily affected by weather, Russell secured an eighth place finish giving us a good foundation to build on as we look toward Houston. We are much further ahead than where we were at this time last year. The maturation from last year to where Charles is now is astounding. He has really grown as a driver and it is fun to be able to work with him for a second year and watch him develop from a raw rookie to a veteran who expects to be at the front."
"The team really came together strong. Following our qualifying setback we got together the next morning with the right attitude and just went right back to work. The car was extremely strong and mechanically it was just exceptional. The weekend was trying at times but we learned and grew as a team I think and I can't wait to get back to the track and build on the positive momentum. I'm looking forward to Houston, I love street racing, the bumps, the narrow course - I can't wait!"
Eric Langbein, Engineer for Russell Walker:
"It was a trying weekend. We were affected by events outside of our control and did the best that we could in the situation. I feel good about our effort in that respect although the results don't reflect the effort. One of the high points of the week though was the preparation of the car. Scott Gates had the car in top form after a complete winter rebuild and tear down for paint. We didn't have a single mechanical issue and that made a trying week much easier."
"I felt comfortable with the team and the environment they provided. They were all in synch in terms of communication, obtaining data and applying it to making the car better each time. Each session I felt more comfortable and got closer and closer to the limits of the car. We didn't have a single problem throughout practice and didn't have any crashes or issues with the car. I was really happy to work with my teammates Russell and Charles. Being veterans, they really helped me out quite a bit as a new driver in the series.
John Walko, Engineer for Sean Burstyn:
"I was very happy with Sean; very impressed with how he did considering that he just jumped right in the deep end. I was pleased, he never put a tire wrong, he never crashed, he never did anything stupid and he really did a good job. For a 16 year old racer with almost no race experience he did really well I was impressed. He listened when we instructed him to do things; he followed coaching and all in all did very well. I look forward to working with him, although we haven't done a full year deal with him yet."