American racer Conor Daly, driving the No. 22 Juncos Racing / INDECK / College Network / Merchant Services Ltd./Tom Lange Co. Mazda, scored his first victory of the 2010 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, from the pole at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. This, the second victory from the pole of his Star Mazda career (he also won from the pole at New Jersey in 2009), added to his third-place finish in the season opener at Sebring last weekend, gives him the lead in the championship points battle with 82.
"This is a historic moment, a historic race in the history of modern open-wheel racing; the first 'Road to Indy' race with all the series involved competing on the same weekend and I'm honored and happy to have won," said Daly, son of F1/Indy Car/Sports Car racing legend Derek Daly. "The two full-course yellows were a little bit of a worry, but they happened early in the race and I was able to pull out a bit of a gap in the later stages. The Juncos Racing team gave me a perfect car and I was able to be very consistent and hit my marks on every lap. The level of camaraderie and cooperation in the team is just fantastic and I'm looking forward to a very competitive season."
Bringing his No. 18 Team Apex / Wabash Capital Investments Mazda across the line in second place, just .422sec behind, was Brazilian racer Joao Victor Horto, a veteran of the Formula BMW Americas series where he raced with his current team, Apex. Team Apex, owned by Jim Exline, CEO of Wabash Capital Investments, made the transition to the Star Mazda Championship at the beginning of the season and has proved a potent force; Horto's teammate, Venezuelan George Goncalvez, finished a strong second in the Sebring season-opener. With a sixth at Sebring last week and a second here, Horto is currently third in the championship with 70 points.
And, much to the delight of everyone in the Star Mazda Championship, third place went to Brazilian racer Caio Lara, a third-year driver in the series. This is his first podium finish and came under circumstances that proved his mettle; he suffered a huge crash in qualifying that saw a tiny miscalculation result in hitting both walls in Turn 9 at high speed and doing substantial damage to his No. 19 JDC Motorsports / MLD / ATW Mazda. He has set the third-fast qualifying time by that point and was able to retain it for the start of the race. After a clean, mistake-free drive, the popular young racer scored the top-three finish he so richly deserves. With a 10th-place finish in the first race, and third here, he is sixth in the points with 63.
Finishing first in the Expert Series for drivers 30-44 years old was Patrick O'Neill, racing the No. 64 JDC Motorsports / O'Neill Construction Mazda. His 14th-overall finish put two Irishmen on the podium (he and Conor Daly) for the first time since Virginia International Raceway in 2009 when he shared the podium with race-winner Peter Dempsey. This was O'Neill's first race of the season and his victory puts him second in the Expert Series points with 20.
Let it be noted that the Star Mazda Championship is a leader in motorsports diversity; not only does the field include drivers from 10 countries, but two Brazilians and two Irishmen were on the podium today. Leading home the Master Series field for drivers 45 and older was Puerto Rican racer Carlos Conde. He finished 18th overall in the No. 31 Team GDT / Pronto-GMT/Olympus Securities Mazda and now leads the Master Series championship battle with 34.
Making one of the most notable drives of the race was Quebec driver Mikael Grenier, pilot of the No. 17 Andersen Racing/NAPA Auto Parts/CAA-Quebec/HS Telecom Mazda. A victim of a qualifying strategy gone wrong when he sat out the first half of the session, only to have the second half be eaten up by a red flag for Caio Lara's crash, Grenier started from dead last in the field of 22 starters and drove his way up to a sixth-place finish; no small achievement for a young driver with limited street circuit experience. With a fourth at Sebring and sixth here, Grenier is fifth in the championship with 64 points.
Also putting in creditable drives were Scandinavian racer Anders Krohn who qualified fourth and finished fourth in his No. 47 Andersen Racing/Norse Cutting & Abandonment/Trallfa/Colosseum Mazda. Krohn, a second-year racer who finished sixth in the 2009 championship, won the pole for the season-opener at Sebring and finished fifth. He currently stands fourth in the championship with 67 points.
MAZDASPEED Motorsports Driver Development Ladder scholarship winner Connor De Phillippi in the No. 11 JDC Motorsports/MAZDASPEED Motorsports/Skip Barber Mazda qualified sixth and finished fifth in today's race. Added to his seventh-place finish at Sebring, he is currently seventh in the championship with 61 points.
Local St. Petersburg racers Nick Andries, racing the No. 81 Andersen Racing/Team Pelfrey/Andersen RacePark Mazda and Hayden Duerson in the No. 94 Juncos Racing/Tampa Bay Endodontics Mazda, received the lion's share of the weekend's media coverage and backed up their claim to that exposure with excellent times in practice, particularly considering it was the first-ever Star Mazda race for both. They qualified 11th and 16th, respectively, but fared less well in the race, suffering contact and mechanical problems that took them out of the action early and relegated them to 21st- and 22nd-place finishes.