AND THE SECOND SHALL BE FIRST – CONNOR DE PHILLIPPI QUICKEST IN STAR MAZDA FRIDAY OFFICIAL PRACTICE FOR THE 2011 SEASON FINALE AT MAZDA RACEWAY LAGUNA SECATeam Pelfrey driver Connor De Phillippi, currently second in the 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear points battle with three wins – and the only driver standing between points leader Tristan Vautier and the championship - turned the quick time in today's first official practice sessions for this weekend's season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. De Phillippi, quick during most of the session, topped the time sheet with a 1:20.700 in his #11 Team Pelfrey / Justice Brothers Products / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda.
"It was quite a bit warmer today than yesterday, so the field spread out a bit more but there are a lot of very competitive cars out there so I have my work cut out for me in qualifying and the race," said De Phillippi. "Even though this is the final race and the championship is on the line, Team Pelfrey is taking it one session at a time, like we do every race, working to improve the car and give us the best chance in the race. Qualifying will be very important here, but so will tire management and driving a perfect race, but we're very good at that and I think we'll be in the hunt on Sunday."Juncos Racing driver João Victor Horto, winner of Round 6 at Mosport, who was quickest in both promoter test sessions on Thursday, was second-quick with a lap of 1:20.873 – nearly half a second faster than his best time of yesterday – in the #7 Juncos Racing / Programa Leilões Mazda. Rounding out the top-3 is fast-rising rookie – both De Phillippi and Horto are second-season drivers – Gustavo Menezes. The young Californian, the second-youngest driver in the series and a teammate of Horto at Juncos Racing, turned a 1:21.211 in his #28 Juncos Racing / Truecar /Safety Park Mazda.Unlike yesterday, when the top-7 drivers were all within one second of each other, today's times were a bit more spread out; only the top-3 were within the same second. Turing the 4th-fast time was championship leader and JDC Motorsports driver Tristan Vautier with a lap of 1:21.757 in the #5 JDC Motorsports / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda. The French racer, the only driver to have won four races so far this season, holds a substantial lead in the championship, but expect to see him racing for the win on Sunday. Completing the top-5 was Andretti Autosport driver Sage Karam, who went off in Turn 6 during the final session yesterday. The 2010 USF2000 national champion, racing in Star Mazda this season with scholarship funding from the Mazda Road to Indy, turned a lap of 1:21.866 in his #88 Andretti Autosport / MAZDASPEED / Comfort Revolution Mazda. The official lap record for a Star Mazda Championship car at Mazda raceway is held by Englishman Richard Kent, a 1:19.935, set in 2008. Lap records in Star Mazda are counted only in qualifying and the race.The fastest driver in the Expert Series for competitors 30 and older was Irish racer, Patrick O'Neill, who was 13th-quick in the #64 O'Neill Racing / O'Neill Construction Mazda with a lap of 1:24.003. This is only his second Star Mazda race of the season, he also competed at the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon, but he won the 2010 West Coast Pro Formula Mazda Championship racing this same car.This is the season finale for the 11-race 2011 season, and while the championship battle is between JDC Motorsports driver Tristan Vautier and Team Pelfrey driver Connor De Phillippi, the remainder of the field are all battling for the race win and the best placing in the championship – a ranking that has both bragging rights and substantial prize money considerations