REPEAT THE FEAT -- DE PHILLIPPI WINS FROM THE POLE IN A CLEAN, GREEN SEASON-OPENER OF THE 2012 STAR MAZDA CHAMPIONSHIP AT THE GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG
Connor De Philliippi, winner of this race last year, repeated the feat with a clean, green run, leading from flag-to-flag in the 2012 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear season-opener at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Starting from the pole in the #2 Juncos Racing / ModSpace Racing / One24 Mazda, De Phillippi experienced only one moment of real drama in the race when, on the final lap, Jack Hawksworth in the #82 Team Pelfrey / TORGOEN Swiss / EXA Networks Mazda, made a passing attempt in Turn 13 that just missed... and wound up costing him a couple of car lengths. Forced to settle for 2nd place, he crossed the finish line just 0.486-seconds back. He did, however, turn the quickest lap of the race and thus won the PEAK Performance Pole Award and the prime starting spot for tomorrow's Race 2.
Rounding out the top-3 was rookie Gabriel 'Gabby' Chaves in the #19 JDC Motorsports / OMP Mazda. Joining them on the podium was the first finisher in the Expert Series from drivers 30 and older, top AMA SuperBike racer Larry Pegram, making one of his periodic forays from the world of 2-wheel racing to 4-wheels. He finished 16th overall in his #72 AIM Autosport / Tampa Bay Jaw Surgery / Foremost Insurance Mazda.
"It really was an ideal race in most respects; I got a good start, was able to control the pace and save my tires for the end when I needed them to defend against Jack," said De Phillippi. "I pulled out a lead of almost two seconds during the race, but then Jack closed it up to nose-to-tail right at the end, so we'll have to have a look at that in the engineering de-briefing, but overall I was very happy with the car that Juncos Racing gave me. My only regret is that the grid for the second race, tomorrow, is being set by the quickest lap you turned today, and while I won the race, I only turned the 7th-fast lap, so I'll be starting from a bit back in the field tomorrow. Fortunately I've done that before and know how to win here even when in involves some passing."
The 30-minute race went green slightly behind schedule, but with nearly ideal conditions; slight overcast and a cool breeze. Most of the field made it through the first lap, and indeed the first half of the race with little drama. The notable exception was Zach Veach in the #77 Andretti Autosport / Zakoski Data Backup Mazda, victim of a sticking throttle that forced a minor mishap on Lap 1, which in turn necessitated a visit to the pits. He returned one lap down and running without his front shock cover and finished 17th.
And at Lap 12, the wheel-to-wheel battle between Hawksworth and Martin Scuncio in the #22 Juncos Racing / Pullman Bus Mazda, came to a head with the two entering Turn 1 side-by-side, Hawksworth pinched into putting his right-side tires up on the curbing, and then making contact with Scuncio. A momentary bobble, and Scuncio continued to finish 6th, but it allowed Chaves, as well as Juan Piedrahita in the #9 JDC Motorsports / Petrosur / GFK Motors Mazda and Petri Suvanto in the #81 Team Pelfrey / Mazda Road to Indy Mazda, to slip past and finish 4th and 5th respectively.
A notable drive was put in by 2011 Star Mazda Rookie of the Year Sage Karam who, due to a combination of penalties, mechanical issues and plain bad luck, was denied an opportunity to qualify; he started from the back of the field in the #88 Andretti Autosport / Comfort Revolution Mazda, moving up to 11th by Lap 6 and up to 8th by the time the checkered waved. Not the way he would have wished to start his season, but not indicative of how it's likely to go, either.