A TWO MAN WAR NO MORE - CHILEAN RACER MARTIN SCUNCIO SCORES HIS FIRST-EVER STAR MAZDA VICTORY WITH A WIN FROM THE OUTSIDE POLE IN RACE 2 AT BARBER
For a while, a little while, it looked as though the 2012 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear was shaping up to be a two-man war, between Californian Connor De Phillippi, now in his third season of Star Mazda competition, and English racer Jack Hawksworth, a hungry rookie with a very heavy right foot. De Phillippi won Race 1 in the St. Pete season-opener last weekend;
Hawksworth won Race 2, and followed that up with a dominant win in Race 1 at the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama earlier today. So there was every reason to believe one of the two would win Race 2 this afternoon.
But Chilean racer Martin Scuncio, driving the #22 Juncos Racing / Pullman Bus Mazda, had other ideas... and enough car and talent to break up the 'top step club.' He crossed the finish line 0.651 seconds ahead of Hawksworth in his previously-invincible #82 Team Pelfrey / TORGOEN Swiss Watches / EXA Networks Mazda, and 1.601 seconds ahead of Juncos Racing teammate Connor De Phillippi in the #2 Juncos Racing / ModSpace Racing / One24 Mazda.
The top-finishing driver in the Expert Series, a race-within-a-race for drivers 30 and older, was Larry Pegram, a top racer in the AMA SuperBike Series who periodically trades two wheels for four and now leads the Expert Series championship in his #72 AIM Autosport Foremost Insurance / Tampa Bay Jaw Surgery Mazda. He finished first in class and 14th overall.
"I'm very happy for myself, my team and all the people who've helped me over the years, this one is for them," said Scuncio, an F3 champion in Chile and veteran of both European and U.S. open-wheel racing. "The Juncos Racing team gives me a good car every time, but I have not always made the best use of it, until today. My car felt very strong and I was able to pass Connor in Turn 11 on the third lap and stay ahead of him. It wasn't easy, but I felt very much in control and now that I know this feeling, I believe I will experience it again soon."
Scuncio, 20, made a splashy debut in the Star Mazda Championship in 2010 with a one-off race at the final event in Road Atlanta where he narrowly missed being on the pole and finished 4th in the race. In 2011, he improved on his record in the season opener, starting from the pole and finishing second. He only ran a partial 2011 season, scoring two podiums and finished 13th in the championship.
Rounding out the top-5 were Gustavo Menezes (#83 Team Pelfrey / TrueCar.com Mazda) and Juan Piedrahita (#9 JDC Motorsports / Petrosur / GFK Motors Mazda), who scored his first podium finish in St. Pete.
The stage seemed set for a dramatic two-lap shootout when a full-course yellow in the closing laps bunched the field and left just enough time for two extremely hot laps. But, while the racing was very much wheel-to-wheel, particularly in the first couple of turns after the re-start, the order at the front of the field, for the most part, remained unchanged to the checkered. If there was a victim in this otherwise orderly melee, it was Sage Karam in the #88 Andretti Autosport / Comfort Revolution Mazda. Last year's Star Mazda Rookie of the Year and 2-race winner, was passed for 4th on the re-start lap by Gustavo Menezes in a daring slide that would have made a dirt-track racer applaud, and then, somewhere on the back side of the course away from view, something happened that dropped him from 5th to 13th... a shame after a tough St. Pete weekend partially redeemed by a podium finish in Race 1 earlier today at Barber.
With two weekends and four races of the 10-event, 17-race season complete, we have three different winners in four races, a good indicator of just how deep the talent pool is this year. Jack Hawksworth, with two wins, two poles, four fastest laps and two 2nd-place finishes, appropriately leads the championship with 115 points. Connor De Phillippi, who won four races last year and finished 2nd in the championship, is currently in 2nd with 86 points. Today's Race 2 winner, Martin Scuncio is 3rd with 78 points, followed by Gabby Chaves with 78 and Juan Piedrahita with 74.
The next race on the 10-weekend, 17-event 2012 schedule for the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear is the prestigious 'Night Before the 500' at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. This first oval-track race of the Star Mazda season is held May 26, the Saturday night before Sunday's running of the Indy 500.
Star Mazda races will be broadcast on Velocity TV and ESPN International; for air dates and times, go to StarMazda.com and click the Star Mazda TV icon.