Happy to be well clear of all the drama taking place behind him, JDC Motorsports driver Tristan Vautier won his fourth race of the season – all from the pole – in today's round of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear at the inaugural Grand Prix of Baltimore. Following him across the finish line, just half a second back, was Andretti Autosport driver Sage Karam. Crossing the finish line third was Juncos Racing driver Joao Victor Horto and rounding out the podium was Expert Series driver Walt Bowlin who finished first in class and sixth overall racing for AIM Autosport.
With 46 points available in the upcoming season finale in two weeks at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Vautier carrying a 38-point lead (392 vs. 354), the young Frenchman has only one competitor, Connor De Phillippi, standing between him and the series championship. And the battle for the prestigious Rookie of the Year award will also be settled that weekend, between Sage Karam and Gustavo Menezes.
"I felt very much in control of the race right from the start, although I could see Connor De Phillippi in my mirrors and that always gives a little bit of pressure; but then at about the half-way point I didn't see him anymore and they told me over the radio that he crashed, so that meant I could stop worrying about him and focus instead on not making a mistake," said Vautier. "This turned out to be a very important race and it looks good for the championship but we must be careful that we do not take anything for granted. I am very thankful to the JDC team and my engineer Rick Cameron for a great car today and all season long. But I know that when we go to the finale at Mazda Raceway we will be prepared for a hard fight, like every weekend."
Due to a lack of practice time resulting from track construction delays, Star Mazda qualifying was turned into a practice session and cars were gridded for the race in the order of their points in the championship. Vautier, leader of the championship since his first victory in Round 2 at Barber Motorsports Park, started from the pole in the #5 JDC Motorsports / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda. It is worth noting that he was also quickest in yesterday's practice session. In each of the races Vautier has won, including today, he has not only started from the pole but also set the fast lap of the race.
Sage Karam, the 2010 USF2000 national champion and winner of two Star Mazda races so far this season, was lined up 5th on the grid in his #88 Andretti Autosport / MAZDASPEED / Comfort Revolution Mazda, but was quickly battling for a spot in the top three.
"It was a fairly good day," said Karam. "We had run only about 10 laps going into the race due to the delay on Friday and an accident yesterday. Unfortunately we didn't have all the information we wanted to go into the race. We had a shot at winning the race near the end but didn't take the risk, thinking we would have more time. Looking back I wish I would have taken the chance, but I wasn't expecting that last yellow. Andretti Autosport did a great job with the setup for the MAZDASPEED/Comfort Revolution car and we did the best with what we had. I'm really pleased with second after starting fifth. Hopefully we can keep this going and gain another spot at Laguna."
The drama began in the first turn of the first lap when Team GDT driver J.W. Roberts, the 2010 Expert Series (for driver 30 and older) champion – and currently leading the Expert Series – crashed his #65 Team GDT / General Data Tech Mazda out of the race. On lap 2, third-place runner Nick Andries had an incident in the #81 Team Pelfrey / Lithionics Battery / GS610 Brake Fluid / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda that forced him into the pits for repairs; when he rejoined the race, it was four laps down and his championship hopes were gone. And on Lap 14, his Team Pelfrey teammate, Connor De Phillippi, who was in the fight among the top three in his #11 Team Pelfrey / Justice Brothers Products / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda, did not come around for lap 15, triggering a long full-course yellow. A tough day for Team Pelfrey; finishing ninth and 10th respectively.