G.P. of St. Petersburg - Connor De Philliippi, winner of this race last year and quickest in both pre-season Spring Training and pre-race practice, has commenced his battle for the 2012 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear in the strongest possible way, winning the PEAK Performance Pole Award in his #2 Juncos Racing / ModSpace Racing / One24 Mazda. His lap of 1:10.401 is just shy of the 1:10.352 set - under cooler conditions - in 2010 by series champion Conor Daly. De Phillippi not only scores the first point of the 2012 season, but will also collect a $1,000 bonus at the end of the season, courtesy of Star Mazda partner PEAK Performance Products.
Starting on the outside of the second row, after starting on the pole here last year and finishing 2nd - to Connor De Phillippi - Argentine driver Martin Scuncio, who only ran a partial season last year, showed he had lost none of his pace with a lap of 1:10.410 in the #22 Juncos Racing / Pullman Bus Mazda. Rounding out the top-3 was a top English open-wheel racer making his debut in Star Mazda this season, Jack Hawksworth. His lap of 1:10.580 in his #82 Team Pelfrey / TORGOEN Swiss Watches / EXA Networks Mazda was just 0.179-sec. off the pole.
"Juncos Racing is a tremendously professional team and they've given me a great car every time I hit the track," says the California driver who finished 2nd in the Star Mazda Championship last year. "We were immediately faster in qualifying than we were in practice and we just kept chipping away, a couple of tenths here, a couple there, and given how small the split was between me and my teammate Martin Scuncio, it's a good thing we did. It's going to be a highly competitive race tomorrow, and again on Sunday, and we're just keeping our heads down and focusing on the job at hand... winning."
Rounding out the top-5 were Hawksworth's Team Pelfrey teammate, Petri Suvanto, the 2011 USF2000 National Champion who is competing in Star Mazda with scholarship funding from the Mazda Road to Indy. The Finnish racer, starting on the outside of the second row, turned a lap of 1:10.632 in the #81 Team Pelfrey / Mazda Road to Indy Mazda. Fifth was another newcomer, Gabriel 'Gabby' Chaves, a European racer with experience in both Italian F3 and GP3. Chosen as a member of the 2010 FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy, Chaves ran a lap of 1:10.773 in his #19 JDC Motorsports / OMP Mazda.
The quickest Expert Series (for drivers 30 and older) competitor was Texan J.W. Roberts, a two-time Expert Series champion. He ran a lap, 15th-fast overall, of 1:12.615 in the #65 Team GDT Mazda / General Data Tech before contact with the wall damaged his car too badly for him to compete this weekend. Expert Series honors will be fought out between friends and AIM Autosport teammates Walt Bowlin (#23 AIM Autosport / Tampa Bay Jaw Surgery Mazda), the racing dentist from St. Pete and Larry Pegram (#72 AIM Autosport / Foremost Insurance Mazda), one of the top AMA Superbike Racers in the country who has competed in the Star Mazda Championship for the past three years.