French racer Tristan Vautier, who dominated preseason Star Mazda testing at Barber Motorsports Park during IndyCar spring training, put an exclamation point on that dominance with a pole-to-checkers run – building up a 33-second lead in the process – in Round 2 of the 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear at the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Vautier drove a flawless race in his No. 5 JDC Motorsports/Cecibon/Circuit du Laquais Mazda, never giving up the lead or participating in any of the drama taking place in his rear-view mirrors.
"We knew that the track was going to change a lot between the start of the race and the end, and that tires would be the key to the race," said Vautier. "The JDC team and my engineer Rick Cameron gave me a very good car, and it was my job to not slide it around and keep the tires as good as possible in case we needed them at the end of the race. But I got into a good rhythm and the car was very fast without trying too hard, so I just drove at a comfortable pace and was surprised to finish so far ahead. The next races are ovals, and I have a lot to learn about racing on them, but the team is working very well together and we all have confidence in each other, which is the most important thing."
Redeeming himself in a substantial way with a run from ninth on the grid to second was Nick Andries in the Team Pelfrey/Lithionics Battery/GS610 Brake Fluid/Trademark Garage Floors Mazda. The St. Petersburg college student endured a problematic beginning to his season when a squeeze play at the start of the opening round at the Grand Prix of St. Pete turned his front-row start into a trip into the tire wall on the opening lap.
Scoring the first podium of her Star Mazda career so far, Colombian racer Tatiana Calderon – the lone female driver in the field – battled both Andries and her teammate, J.V. Horto, to finish third in the No. 10 Juncos Racing/JAC Motors Mazda. In the Expert Series for driver 30 and older, Larry Pegram, a top AMA SuperBike racer broadening his resume with periodic appearances in the Star Mazda Championship, scored his first in-class win with a drive from 13th on the grid to finish 8th overall in the No. 72 AIM Autosport/Tampa Bay Jaw Surgery/Foremost Insurance Mazda.
Other drives of note included Venezuelan driver Carlos Linares, driving the No. 20 Linares Racing/Mindeporte Mazda for his family-owned team; he qualified 14th on the grid and raced his way up to fifth.
The controversy in a race that went green flag-to-flag was provided by two friends, Irish racer Patrick McKenna and Connor De Phillippi, winner of both the final race of the 2010 season and the 2011 season opener in St. Petersburg. Racing among the leaders at the halfway mark of the race, McKenna in the No. 48 Team GDT/Motorsport Ireland/Irish Sports Council/General Data Tech Mazda and De Phillippi in the Team Pelfrey/Justice Brothers Products/Trademark Garage Floors Mazda entered a turn wheel to wheel and, even trying to leave each other racing room, wound up tangled; De Phillippi, who qualified fifth, finished on the lead lap on 10th and McKenna, who started fourth on the grid, wound up a lap down in 13th.