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 on Sunday. So there was every reason to believe one of the two would win Race 2 later that afternoon.
But Chilean racer Martin Scuncio, driving the No. 22 Juncos Racing / Pullman Bus Mazda, had other ideas… and enough car and talent to break up through. He crossed the finish line 0.651 seconds ahead of Hawksworth in his previously-invincible No. 82 Team Pelfrey / TORGOEN Swiss Watches / EXA Networks Mazda, and 1.601 seconds ahead of Juncos Racing teammate Connor De Phillippi in the No. 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 No. 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 (No. 83 Team Pelfrey / TrueCar.com Mazda) and Juan Piedrahita (No. 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 No. 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. Scuncio is 3rd with 78 points, followed by Gabby Chaves with 78 and Juan Piedrahita with 74.