Connor De Phillippi Quickest in Day 1 of Star Mazda Practice at St. Pete

AFTER SETTING THE QUICK TIME IN SPRING TRAINING, CONNOR DE PHILLIPPI IS AGAIN QUICKEST - BY ALMOST HALF A SECOND -- IN DAY 1 OF STAR MAZDA PRACTICE FOR THE GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETE

After turning a time 6/10ths clear of the next quickest driver in Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear Spring Training at Barber Motorsports Park earlier this week, California racer Connor De Phillippi was again quickest - this time by a mere 0.485-seconds - in the first practice session leading up the 2012 season-opener at this weekend's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.  De Philippi, driving the #2 Juncos Racing / ModSpace Racing / One24 Mazda, turned his fast time - a 1:12.084 - on Lap 12 of the 30-minute early evening session.  The official Star Mazda lap record at the St. Petersburg street circuit is 1:10.352, set by series champion Conor Daly in 2010.

Second-quick in the session was his Juncos Racing teammate, Argentine racer Martin Scuncio, who set a time of 1:12.586 in his #22 Juncos Racing / Pullman Bus Mazda.  Third quick was Colombian racer Gabby Chaves with a lap of 1:12.674 in the #19 JDC Motorsports / OMP Mazda.  Rounding out the top-5 were Petri Suvanto, who was the quickest rookie and set the second-fast time in Spring Training, with a 1:12.907 in the #81 Team Pelfrey / Mazda Road to Indy Mazda and American Sage Karam, who drove the #88 Andretti Autosport / Comfort Revolution Mazda to a 5-quick time of 1:13.085.

The quickest driver in the Expert Series for drivers 30 and older is 2-time Expert Series champion J.W. Roberts who is both owner of, and driver for, Team GDT.  He turned a lap of 1:17.187 in his #65 Team GDT Mazda / General Data Tech.

De Phillippi, now in his third season, is by far the most experienced driver in the series, won this race last year and finished second in the championship in 2011.  Scuncio was on pole for this event last year, finished 2nd in the race and 13th in the championship after missing the last half of the season.  Chaves is a Star Mazda rookie, but with plenty of open-wheel ladder experience, including Italian F3 and GP3.  He was also chosen for the prestigious 2012 FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy. 

Suvanto is the 2011 USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda and has moved up to compete in the Star Mazda Championship with scholarship funding from the Mazda Road to Indy.  And Karam was the 2010 USF2000 champion, moved up to Star Mazda with scholarship funding from the Mazda Road to Indy.  He won two races in 2011, was the series' rookie of the year and finished 5th in the championship.

Star Mazda practice continues with another 30-minute session tomorrow morning, followed by qualifying for Race 1 (of 2) starting at 4:10 pm, Friday, March 23.  Race 1 takes place 1:00-1:40pm, Friday, March 24.  With the double-header format that Star Mazda will use at many events this season, the quickest lap time for each car in Race 1 will set the grid for Race 2, which is scheduled to take the green at 10:05 am, Sunday, March 25.