CHAMPIONSHIP LEADER TRISTAN VAUTIER QUICKEST IN FINAL STAR MAZDA PRACTICEFOR GRAND PRIX OF BALTIMORE - WILL START FROM POLE, HIS 5th OF THE YEAR
After a Friday practice session shortened to 15 minutes by delays in finishing construction on the 12-turn, 2.4-mile Grand Prix of Baltimore street circuit, French racer Tristan Vautier, made full and productive use of today's single 30-minute practice session for the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear; he cut three seconds from yesterday's quick time and topped the time sheets for the final practice with a 1:31.319 (80.421 mph) in the #5 JDC Motorsports / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda.
Due to the short amount of practice time, grid positions for the race will be determined by championship points; as a result, Vautier - the championship leader - will start from his 5th pole of the year.
Turning the 2nd-quick time was Florida racer Nick Andries with a 1:31.758 (80.037 mph)... nearly six seconds better than his time from yesterday. It should be noted that in yesterday's session, no driver got more than six laps, and Andries only got four. Third-quick was Californian Connor De Phillippi with a 1:31.771 (80.025 mph) in his #11 Team Pelfrey / Justice Brothers Products / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda.
And rounding out the top-5 were yesterday's quickest driver, Sage Karam, with a 1:31.827 (79.976 mph) in the #88 Andretti Autosport / MAZDASPEED / Comfort Revolution Mazda and Gustavo Menezes, who turned only a single lap yesterday and was still 10th-fast. Menezes was 5th-quick today with a 1:32.637 (79.277 mph) - more than eight seconds faster - in his #28 Juncos Racing / Truecar / Safety Park Mazda. The quickest driver in the Expert Series, a race-within-a-race for drivers 30 and older, was Texan J.W. Roberts, with an 11th-fast time of 1:37.915 (75.004 mph) in his #65 Team GDT / General Data Tech Mazda.
Vautier is one of two drivers with three race victories in the series; Connor De Phillippi is the other. De Phillippi is second in the championship, and his teammate, Nick Andries, is third with an impressive string of six podium finishes. Sage Karam is a two-time winner so far, and he and De Phillippi share the common experience of having won championships and moved up to Star Mazda via scholarship funding from the Mazda Road to Indy; De Phillippi won the Skip Barber Pro series in 2009 and moved up in 2010, and Karam was the 2010 USF2000 national champion, moving up to Star Mazda this year.
Gustavo Menezes, the second-youngest driver in the series (Karam is the youngest) took a huge step, moving from the top levels of international karting directly to Star Mazda this season. He is currently 6th in the championship, having finished every race in the top-8; he scored his first podium on the Iowa Speedway oval and started the last race, the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, from the outside of the front row. Roberts, the owner of a computer services company, is both the owner of Team GDT and a driver for the team. He won the Expert Series championship in 2010 and leads again this year.