The weekend was dubbed Mazda Formula X, as it was an all-singing, all-dancing Mazda fest at New Jersey Motorsports Park: Formula Atlantic Powered by Mazda, Star Mazda, BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda, Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup and IMSA Lites powered by Mazda. But in the San Clemente, Calif., home of the De Phillipis, forgive them for thinking it was really The Connor Show.
It was rounds five and six of 14 for the Skip Barber National, six weeks since rounds three and four at VIR. There, Bret Smrz and Felipe Polehtto had each won, stopping the two-poles-and-two-wins opening salvo of Connor De Phillippi at Sebring in March.
But De Phillippi hit the re-set button at NJMP. Although he didn’t take pole position for either race – De Phillippi qualified sixth for the first race and fifth for the second – and indeed, of the 34 total laps that made up the two races, he led just three of them.
But win the races De Phillippi did, and the 16-year-old who had won the 2008 Skip Barber Karting Scholarship Shoot-out (and went on to finish sixth in the SBN championship) and thus officially joined the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development ladder team, remains atop the points. Coming into the weekend, De Phillippi had a 1 point lead over Polehtto. Leaving New Jersey, that margin over Polehtto grew to 21.
Race one... Court Vernon (he too a Karting Shoot-out winner) parlayed his first pole position into the lead at the start. But on the second lap, Ian Costa got tapped into a turn-one spin and sat sideways mid-corner. Before he could re-fire, one of the tailenders didn’t quite have his eyes up far enough and ripped his left-rear across the front of Costa’s still-sitting SBF2000. Two down cars in the middle of the road so full course yellow we went.
Back to green at the start of lap 6, second-place Smrz snatched the lead from Vernon. And then... well, it sounds like an old saw, but you know how SBN races go. Ten-car lead packs with side by side, nose-to-tail racing are the norm. Smrz officially led the next five laps, but he was never more than a car length in front. Most leads in the Skip Barber National are as safe as a can of Red Bull in the driver hospitality tent. Blink and it’s gone.
And it was, as McAleer snatched the point on lap 11. Then Vernon took it on lap 12. Then back to McAleer for 13, then over to Vernon for 14, then tossed to Smrz on 15, then stolen by Vernon again on 17. All the while, also in the throw-a-blanket-over-‘em pack were Kyle Marcelli and Sean Rayhall. Oh, and De Phillippi. Who waited until the last lap and popped for the win. He led all of one lap. The only one that counts.
Marcelli was second, .158 behind and matching his P2 in the first race of the year. Vernon was third, trailed by Rayhall, McAleer and Michael Dorrbecker – all within the same 1 second at the line. Polehtto was seventh, with Sage Karam, Jason Toft and Dennis Trebing rounding out the top 10.
Believe it or not, the Sunday race was even better. I kid you not, there were long stretches of this one where the first 15 of the 21 starters were all in one pack, either side-by-side looking like the pace lap, or nose-to-tail in one long, long train. (That first photo, at the top? That’s with four laps to go. Thank you ace lensman Greg Clark.)
When you look at the lap leaders in the results (below), it shows De Phillippi leading the last two laps. What it fails to tell you is that on the start of the last lap, Karam ducked inside of De Phillippi in One and took the lead. Karam was strong – he had led nine laps of this race – and it looked like this could be a win for the 13-year-old.
But a couple of turns later, the high-speed Turn Three Chicane, Karam fell off the road and lost not only first but second-place, too, to Smrz. De Phillippi held on the rest of the lap for the win, while Karam was able to nip Smrz at the line to get second. Wow, good stuff.
For the record, it was McAleer who had started on pole. The Scotsman has been a race winner and consistent frontrunner in the National since 2007 and it came as a shock to most everyone in the paddock that the pole he had taken in qualifying for this race was his first! Anyway, he came fourth in a photo finish with Polehtto. Vernon came from 10 th on the grid for sixth, followed by Rayhall, Dorrbecker, Julian Albarracin and Corey Lewis.
Next up is Barber Park, July 17-19, a great track with a flow similar to NJMP’s Thunderbolt.