Showing the positive effects of a long night of data evaluation and fine-tuning of setups, the second day of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear series test at Sebring produced – eventually -- some new names at the top of the time sheet.
Session 1 / 8 – 9 am
After dominating both 1-hour afternoon sessions on Tuesday, Adam Christodoulou again appeared at the top of the morning time sheet on Wednesday. Driving the #21 Andersen Racing Mazda in the cool of the morning during the 8 – 9 am first session, the 2008 British Formula Renault champion posted a 2:00.150 (110.861 mph) on his 8th lap. This would prove to be the fastest lap recorded during the two day test and is just less than 2/10ths of a second off the Star Mazda Sebring lap record of 1:59.986 held by 2007 series champion Dane Cameron… altogether a remarkable result with just two days to sort out an upgraded car featuring new aerodynamics, suspension, shock absorbers and engine mapping.
The result was not unexpected however, as Andersen Racing, the Star Mazda Championship's largest and most diversified team (also competing in karting, Formula BMW, F2000 and Indy Lights), had already run more than 2,000 miles during a 2-day test earlier this month. While the test was run with 2008-spec cars, the amount of seat time meant team drivers were already familiar with the track and in rapport with their engineers, speeding up the development process of the new cars.
Conor Daly, after posting the 3rd and 4th fastest times in the Tuesday sessions, jumped up to second-fast Wednesday morning with a lap of 2:00.753 (110.308) in the #5 Andersen Racing Mazda. Last year's championship runner-up and MAZDASPEED Motorsports Driver Development Ladder scholarship winner, Joel Miller, remained at the sharp end with a third-fast time of 2:00.945 (110.133 mph) in the #20 JDC Motorsports Mazda. Rounding out the top-5 were Ciao Lara, second-fastest on Tuesday afternoon, with a lap of 2:01.345 in the #19 JDC Motorsports Mazda and David Ostella, the young Canadian racer who competed in the Formula BMW series in 2008. He was 10th and 8th in the two Tuesday sessions, but moved up to 5th with a lap of 2:02.128 (109.066 mph) on Wednesday morning driving the #71 Mazda from 2008 series champions AIM Autosport.
Also on the pace, after running out of the top-10 in both Tuesday session was 2008 FF2000 champion Anders Krohn, who turned a 7th-fast lap of 2:02.913 (108.369 mph) in the #27 Mundill Mazda. Notable morning performances also included Kristy Kester, the lone female driver at the test and the distaff half of the brother/sister Kester Racing team who was 8th-fast with a lap of 2:02.914 (108.368 mph) in the #48 Kester Racing Mazda.
Session 2 / 11 – 12 pm
Session two, from 11 am to Noon, saw a familiar name finally assume his accustomed place at the top of the time sheet, Joel Miller. His time of 2.00.790 (110.274 mph) did not match the fast time of the morning session, but it did come during the warmer time of day when Star Mazda races are typically held. Miller has yet to finalize his 2009 plans, but was assisting his 2008 team, JDC Motorsports, with gathering data on the new car.
“I like the feeling that the new upgrades give the car in overall performance,” Miller stated. “The biggest changes are the increased rpm limit means we aren't bumping off the rev limiter in the draft and the new shocks are much better over high-speed bumps. Overall, it's more comfortable to drive and easier to tune. The JDC team took the approach of adding one piece at a time, so we ran the new wings on Tuesday and added the new shocks and the rest of the upgrades on Wednesday, so I think we've got a good handle on how to make the car behave the way we want it to. We weren't faster with the new car at this test, but I think once the series gets to an actual race weekend where the track has lots of rubber down from the other cars, that's when we'll see what it can do."
We never put on a set of new tires to really see what the car could do, but the goal for the test was to evaluate the new parts. However, we attempted a new tire run in the last ten minutes of the final session, but a red flag ended our chance to see what the car could have done with new tires.”
Christodoulou was relegated, for the first time, to the second spot on the time sheet with a lap of 2:01.541 (109.593 mph). Making his first appearance near the top of the time sheets was Richard Kent, yet another Andersen Racing driver. He very nearly threw a monkey wrench into the works in the 2008 Star Mazda Championship season finale by winning his first race of the season from the pole (although both Joel Miller and 2008 championship winner John Edwards also won their first-ever Star Mazda race from the pole, Miller at Sebring and Edwards in Round 2 at Miller Motorsports Park). Kent, a driving instructor and European Formula Palmer Audi racer, was third-fastest with a lap of 2:01.620 (109.521 mph) in the #77 Andersen Racing Mazda – the same car he won with in Round 12 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The top-5 was rounded out by Conor Daly (2:01.692/109.457 mph) and Anders Krohn (2:01.793/109.366 mph). Also of note was Kevin Toledo, an 18 year-old driver from Chile who has been competing in the South American Formula Renault Championship and ran one Star Mazda Championship race in 2008, finishing 10th. After posting times well out of the top-10 on Tuesday, Toledo jumped up to 8th with a lap of 2:02.904 (108.377 mph) in the #31 Andersen Racing Mazda.
Session 3 / 2:50 – 3:50 pm
The final session of the day, and of the 2-day Star Mazda Championship pre-season series test, saw Brazilian racer Ciao Lara, the 2007 FF2000 'Rookie of the Year' with ten podium finishes, top the time sheet with a lap of 2:01.363 (109.753 mph) in the #19 JDC Motorsports Mazda. Lara ran with JDC Motorsports in the 2008 Star Mazda Championship, scoring two 5th-place finishes in the final two races and finishing 8th in the championship battle. He has announced he will run with JDC again in 2009.
Rounding out the top-5 were the 'usual suspects', Christodoulou in second with a 2:01.667 (109.479 mph) and Anders Krohn in third with a 2:01.869 (109.298 mph), followed by Joel Miller 92:02.004/109.177 mph) and Conor Daly (2:02.062/109.125 mph).
Jorge Goncalvez, a Venezuelan racer moving up from Formula BMW with 2008 Star Mazda series champions AIM Autosport in the #7 Mazda that American John Edwards drove to the championship, put in a consistent performance over the two days. After finding his way with a cautious 12th-fast time in the first session Tuesday morning, he posted the 5th-fastest time Tuesday afternoon and ran in the top-7 during all three Wednesday sessions, posting his best time of the day during Session 2, a 2:02.464 (108.767 mph).
Also of note:
Multi-Car Expansion -- Goshen Motorsports, a highly-professional 'family' team that fielded son Billy Goshen in 2008 is one of several Star Mazda Championship teams that have stepped up to a multi-car effort for 2009. Billy Goshen scored one podium, two top-5 and seven top-10s, finishing 7th in the 2008 championship. He ran in the top-10 during both test days, posting a best time of 2:03.200 (108.117 mph) for the 9th-fast time in the first session on Wednesday. His new teammate, Ryan Booth, a Formula TR Pro Series competitor in 2008, also made the top-10 list both days with his fastest lap in the #83 Goshen Motorsports Mazda, 2:03.790 (107.602 mph) coming in the second session on Tuesday. And, although he did not run at the Sebring test, Japanese racer Toshiro Deko will also join the team on the Star Mazda Championship starting grid in 2009.
New Team - A new team joining the Star Mazda Championship in 2009 is Juncos Racing, a three-car effort based out of Fort Pierce, Florida. At the wheel of a trio of Star Mazda race cars will be rookies Michael Furfari and Sean Burstyn, with Walt Bowlin contesting the Masters Class Championship for drivers 45 and older. Furfari is a Canadian driver with experience in karting, Skip Barber and Formula Renault 1600, Burstyn ran the Formula Renault 1600 SCCA championship in 2006 and competed in the Star Mazda Championship season-opener at Sebring in 2007. In 2008, he competed in the FARA championship F-1 (Formula Mazda) class. Walt Bowlin is an oral surgeon and graduate of both the Bondurant Racing School and Juncos Racing School. Furfari did not attend the Sebring test, but Burstyn was 9th-fast in Wednesday's second session, turning a lap of 2:03.194 (108.122 mph) in the #6 Juncos Racing Mazda.
New Sponsors – While other open wheel racing series are struggling, the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear with its recently-renewed 5-year commitments from both title sponsors and a new promotional partnership with iRacing.com, is a stable, increasingly high-profile opportunity for both young drivers and sponsors. Mitchell Motorsports driver Rusty Mitchell not only ran in the top-10 with 9th-fast lap of 2:03.707 (107.674 mph) in the afternoon session on Tuesday, but will also be racing the #22 Mitchell Motorsports Mazda with increased support from Motorola and new sponsor Petro Comm. Fast newcomer Anders Krohn will race the #27 Mundill Mazda with support from industrial equipment manufacturer (and developer of the world's first spray paint robot) Tralfa and health care services provider Colosseum. Juncos Racing's Sean Burstyn will compete with support from Miami exotic car dealer The Collection, while Walt Bowlin features Tampa Bay Jaw Surgery on the side of his car.
Star Mazda/IRL Development Team – Making them the second team in the Star Mazda Championship (along with Andersen Racing, which is the official development team of Rahal Letterman Racing) Kester Racing and IndyCar racing’s newest team, Team 3G, have announced they will partner to field entries in the Star Mazda Championship in 2009. The new team will become the first rung in the development ladder for drivers, engineers, and sponsors to move with Team 3G to the Indy Lights and IndyCar Series. The Star Mazda team will continue to be based at the Texas World Speedway, with experienced brother and sister drivers J.C. and Kristy Kester. Former NASCAR driver Stanton Barrett will pilot the Team 3G car for the 2009 IndyCar Series season.