After competing at the national and international level in karting for 10 years, 16-year old Gustavo Menezes is moving up the motorsports ladder with the announcement of his campaign into the 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear with Juncos Racing. The Californian is making the move to the junior open-wheel ranks and the second step of the new "Mazda Road to Indy" driver development program after completing his first season at the Senior level in karting. With the ultimate goal of competing in Formula 1, Menezes' move to Star Mazda is the next rung toward that achievement.
“I am very excited to be competing in Star Mazda,” said Menezes. “It will be a great challenge for me and I can't wait to get started in St. Petersburg. It is great to be partnering with Juncos again as I raced for them when I was younger in karts. I know they are among the elite teams in this series and I think we will be able to put up a strong fight this season. It is a very big step to come directly from karting to Star Mazda but I am up to the challenge and educating myself each time in the car.”
Menezes spent last week in the state of Florida, walking the isle-way of the Performance Racing Industry show floor making contacts in the industry along with representing his sponsor Oakley. Following the show, Menezes met up with the Juncos Racing operation for a private test session in one of their Star Mazda machines (ABOVE), leaving with high hopes on his new venture.
“The car was amazing,” he related. “It is surely the best car I have driven yet. The Goodyear tires give the car immense grip and the downforce is amazing. It definitely has a lot of horsepower and I loved it. I seemed to connect with the team during the test and we worked together very well. One thing different about cars is that the driver to engineer communication is very crucial and their engineer worked really well with me. I think we will have a successful rookie season together and have a very good shot at podiums and possible race wins. I can't wait to get back in the car.”
Menezes spent the majority of 2010 overseas as he contested the CIK-FIA and WSK karting schedules in his first year in the competitive KF2 division. Following his performance at the 2009 Superkarts! USA SuperNationals, Menezes was awarded a Jim Russell Future Driver Scholarship and was the youngest of the top-20 finalists in the shootout.
"I'm very happy to have Gustavo back on the Juncos Racing team," said Juncos Racing team owner Ricardo Juncos. "We have known each other really well for six years now, back from when we were racing four classes a weekend in IKF karting in California, and he was only 11 years old when we did our first JICA races together. Having that previous experience working with each other helps a lot moving forward.
"We did a test with him few days ago, and he really impressed the whole team. It will be a challenge for him and the team to make the jump from karting to the Star Mazda Championship, but we know that we have a lot to give to him. He will be sharing the 2011 season with a perfect combination of experienced drivers – Tatiana Calderon, Joao Horto and Martin Scuncio – and I really believe that with Gustavo's dedication and talent and the whole team working together in 2011, he will learn so much. That will give us a real chance, no doubt, to fight with him for the 2012 Star Mazda Championship."
Menezes will return with the Juncos operation Jan. 3-4 for more testing at Sebring and followed up with another testing session at the Homestead later in the month. The series schedule and Menezes' series debut will begin March 27 as part of the IZOD IndyCar Series opener at St. Petersburg.