Diego Ferreira had displayed dramatic improvement during his rookie season in 2012, and the youngster from Maracay, Venezuela, clearly demonstrated he had continued on that upward curve over the winter as he came out of the blocks to score a fine first-ever victory in today's opening round of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires at Circuit of The Americas.
Ferreira, 19, claimed a surprise pole position earlier this afternoon, posting the fastest time on the very last lap of qualifying and narrowly eclipsing pre-season favorite Matthew Brabham, who had set the pace in convincing style during pre-race tests for Andretti Autosport. Brabham, in turn, only narrowly edged the Team Pelfrey pair of Spencer Pigot, from Orlando, Fla., and Petri Suvanto, from Nurmo, Finland, as the top four were covered by a scant 0.089sec around the demanding 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course.
"The start was difficult," admitted Ferreira. "Matthew [Brabham] was really fast at the start and I had to brake a lot later and made it and just pushed from there. I knew I had a really good gap at the end of the race and slowed up a bit to make sure everything was OKand finish the race. This win is awesome. Last year I was a rookie learning the tracks and everything. This year maybe it's my year, I hope, to fight for the championship.”
The messy start saw Ferreira maintain his advantage over Brabham on the steep uphill climb to Turn 1, but behind him there was mayhem as the remainder of the 16-car field jockeyed for position. An aggressive start saw Nick Andries (No. 19 JDC MotorSports) leap from 11th to third, but not for long as he tangled with Colombian teammate Juan Piedrahita (No. 9 Petrosur/Sisolec/GFK Motors/Red Line Oil) at the tight left-hand hairpin. Both cars limped around to the pits and retired.
Colombian rookie Juan Acosta (No. 11 Studio F/Ela Special-M1 Racing) took full advantage, while teenaged Californian Kyle Kaiser (No. 18 InterVision/NetApp/Juniper Networks/Riverbed-World Speed Motorsports) exited the first corner in sixth, sandwiched by the two Team Pelfrey cars, but promptly lost control in the middle of the Esses. Kaiser, fortunately, was able to continue with only a minimal loss of time.
Teenaged Californian Kyle Kaiser (No. 18 InterVision/NetApp/Juniper Networks/Riverbed-World Speed Motorsports) exited the first corner in sixth, sandwiched by the two Team Pelfrey cars, but promptly lost control in the middle of the Esses. Kaiser, fortunately, was able to continue with only a minimal loss of time.
Ferreira remained under some pressure from Brabham for the first couple of laps, but soon began to edge clear. Brabham, meanwhile, was struggling to match his form from testing and slipped back toward the clutches of Pigot, who passed Gutierrez on the opening lap and then overtook Acosta for third on lap 3.
Pigot was charging along, matching the pace of the race leader as he whittled a deficit of more than 3.5 seconds to Brabham to be on his tail by the end of Lap 9. Next time around, he pulled out of Brabham's draft on the long back straightaway to sweep effortlessly past into second place, which he held to the finish to claim top rookie honors. Pigot eventually crossed the line just 4.015 seconds adrift of race winner Ferreira, who also posted the fastest lap of the race – by a meager 0.013sec over Pigot – to ensure he will start tomorrow's Round 2 from the pole.
“I didn't get a great start at all," related Pigot. "My engineer called green just a little bit too early and I went a little too early and had to come back out of the throttle and by the time I got back in, these two [Ferreira and Brabham] had taken off and I was getting swamped by the two rows behind me. I think I fell back to fifth by the first corner and had to keep working my way back up through the field. It was a good race. I would liked for it to have been a little bit longer; I think we had the pace at the end, but overall a good day and I am looking forward to tomorrow.”
Brabham completed the podium, a further 4.8 seconds adrift, followed by Acosta and Suvanto (No. 82 GetGapGuard.com), who persevered impressively despite suffering damage to his car's rear wing on the very first lap.
Scott Anderson (No. 44 Neuropathy Testing Center/Laser Nail Centers/OtterCares/Sparco/Bell-Juncos Racing), from Fort Collins, Colo., headed a four-car battle for sixth place that also comprised Zack Meyer (No. 66 Damis Partners III/Red Line Oil-JDC MotorSports), from Toronto, Ont., Canada, the recovering Kaiser and Shelby Blackstock (No. 28 Starstruck/Andretti Autosport).
Jeff Garibotti of Garibotti Racing took home Expert Class honors and finished 12th overall.
Tomorrow's Race 2 taking place at 1:10 p.m. Live Timing and Scoring with commentary will be available at www.promazdachampionship.com.