VAUTIER WINS STAR MAZDA ROUND 9 AT THE INDY GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA AT INFINEON RACEWAY TO BECOME THE SECOND THREE-RACE WINNER OF THE SEASON
French racer Tristan Vautier has become the second 3-race winner of the 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear season with a victory from the pole – his fourth of the season -- in Round 9 at the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway. Vautier, Driving the #5 JDC Motorsports / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda, Vautier led every lap to finish 9.690-seconds ahead of Connor De Phillippi, the other three-race winner so far this season driving the #11 Team Pelfrey / Justice Brothers Products / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda.
The race was much closer than the final gap would suggest; Vautier and De Phillippi battled the entire 30 laps with never more than a second or two separating them until the last lap when De Phillippi spun in the chicane on the back side of the course, but still had enough of a gap to the car behind him to keep his place on the podium.
From there, however, fans waited another 19 seconds for the 3rd-place #81 Team Pelfrey / Lithionics Battery / GS610 Brake Fluid / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda of Nick Andries to cross the finish line. AMA Superbike star Larry Pegram, who also competes in the Star Mazda Championship won the Expert Series race-within-a-race for drivers 30 and older; he finished 12th overall in the #72 AIM Autosport / Tampa Bay Jaw Surgery / Foremost Insurance Mazda to score his third in-class victory of the season.
"It was a tremendous race and I led all the way but there was a little bit of drama," said Vautier. "I spun the tires a little bit on the start/finish line as we accelerated, but still managed to get a good start and not make any mistakes. Toward the end of the race, Connor was closing on me a little bit so I had to be very careful to maintain the gap without using up my tires. But it all worked out and I have to give credit to the JDC Motorsports team for giving me a perfect car. We now have a couple of days before the next race at the new street circuit in Baltimore, but we'll just keep working like we have been and we ready to fight for the championship right to the end."
Finishing 4th after qualifying 6th was Sage Karam, winner of two races so far this season in the #88 Andretti Autosport / MAZDASPEED / Comfort Revolution Mazda. Karam, the 2010 USF2000 champion, is racing in Star Mazda this season with scholarship funding from the Mazda Road to Indy driver development program.
And rounding out the top-5 with another strong performance in what may well prove to be her breakout season was Colombian racer Tatiana Calderon, the lone female driver in the series; she has two podiums and seven top-10 finishes in the #10 Juncos Racing / JAC Motors Mazda. Brazilian driver João Victor Horto, winner of Round 6 at Mosport, brought his #7 Juncos Racing / Programa Leilões Mazda home in 6th and Ohio native Zach Veach, a top contender in the USF2000 championship making his first-ever start in the Star Mazda Championship demonstarted he will be a force to be reckoned with next season with a 7th-place finish in the #77 Andretti Autosport / Team Zakosi Data Backup / Retail Pro / ArtRotondo.com / ADS IT Solutions Mazda.
Suffering most from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune were California drver Gustavo Menezes, who impressed in pre-race practice and then put his #28 Juncos Racing / Truecar / Safety Park Mazda on the outside of the front row for the start and engaded in a heated, wheel-to-wheel battle for the first 22 laps with Nick Andries. Finally, Andries out-braked Menezes into Turn 10 and Menezes spun, dropping him back to a 10th-place finish -- leaving Nick Andries and Sage Karam to fight it out for the last spot on the podium. Even with this incident, and De Phillippi's last-lap adventure, the race went green all the way.
And the 'sleeper' in the field had his share of bad luck as well. Expert Series racer Patrick O'Neill, the only driver racing this weekend who was also on the grid in back in 2005 the last time the Star Mazda Championship cars raced at Infineon, practiced as high as 5th in the series test earlier this week, and qualified 11th in the #64 AIM Autosport / JDC Motorsport / O'Neill Construction Mazda only to finish two laps down in 17th.