The Star Mazda Championship is currently in its 20th year of competition, solidifying its reputation as one of the top developmental series in North America. The 2010 season got underway last weekend at Sebring International Raceway and will continue this weekend on the Streets of St. Petersburg.
Make the jump to read the full 2010 Star Mazda Championship season preview.
The 2010 season actually got underway back in January when the series hosted an official pre-season test at Sebring International Raceway. Conor Daly, who is one of the top returning drivers this season, stood out the most by setting the fastest time in 3 out of the 6 sessions during the pre-season test. He finished 3rd overall in the 2009 championship.
Anders Krohn, another returning driver, was also extremely fast. Krohn finished all but one session inside the top-three on the time charts. He will be driving for Andersen Racing this season which is the same team he was driving for when he won the 2008 F2000 Championship.
Rookie driver Tristan Vautier was very quick during his first weekend in a Star Mazda car and was consistently fast throughout the test.
For those that missed it, here is my Sebring Test Recap.
By my count, there are eight drivers (at this time) returning to the Star Mazda Championship for 2010. That number includes all who ran full-time in the 2009 championship. If you count those who ran part-time last season, the number could be bumped up considerably. The top returning drivers are Conor Daly, Anders Krohn, Jorge Goncalvez, Michael Furfari, Caio Lara, Rusty Mitchell, David Ostella and Richard Kent. All of whom are capable of a great season and certainly make my “drivers to watch” list.
There are three champions from 2009 who will be racing in the 2010 Star Mazda Championship; Chris Miller (F2000 Championship), Connor De Phillippi (Skip Barber National) and Carlos Linares (Venezuelan F1600). All three drivers will have their work cut out for them this season with so many returning drivers.
Rookie Drivers to Watch
Standard Disclaimer: If you didn’t make the list it doesn’t mean I don’t think you’ll be successful.
Tristan Vautier– As noted above, Tristan was fast in the pre-season test (his first time in a Star Mazda car) and he followed that performance up with a win in Round-1 last weekend at Sebring. Both performances thus far have taken place at Sebring International Raceway, so, the only question that remains is, “Can he maintain his pace as he moves on to new circuits?”. Judging from what we’ve seen so far, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Connor De Phillippi– Connor won the 2009 Skip Barber National championship and became the youngest winner of the prestigious Walter Hayes Trophy. He was able to take part in that event (held at Silverstone in the UK) after being awarded the Team USA Scholarship along with Brett Smrz. Connor has been quick in everything he’s ever driven, so I’m sure this year will be no exception.
Mikael Grenier– Canadian driver Mikael Grenier drove six races in the 2009 Star Mazda championship; earning two podiums. Last weekend, while at Sebring for Round-1, he qualified 2nd and finished 4th. He is extremely fast and will undoubtedly be a driver to watch this season. It’s hard to consider him a rookie.
Joao Horto– I picked Joao Horto as the 2009 Formula BMW-Americas Unsung Hero. He pretty much flew under the radar last season but managed to show some moments of brilliance. Last weekend, he narrowly missed a top-five finish in his first career Star Mazda race. Watch for him to improve throughout the season.
Chris Miller– Chris Miller won the 2009 F2000 Championship with JDC Motorsports and will now look to pursue the Star Mazda championship under the same guidance. He hasn’t been excessively quick out-of-the-box in a Star Mazda machine but I think he will really start to shine as he gets more comfortable in the car.
Court Vernon– I’ve been very impressed with Court and I’m confident in his abilities behind the wheel. He is currently battling funding issues and a little bit of bad luck (which goes along with racing). If he is able to put together a full-season, a top-five finish in the overall championship isn’t out of the question. I expect he has a bright future.
My Championship Picks
It’s early and a lot can change but I know people enjoy this sort of thing, so I figured I’d post my just-for-fun picks.
My top-three for the 2010 Championship are:
- Anders Krohn
- Conor Daly
- Connor De Phillippi
The Star Mazda Championship always features close wheel-to-wheel racing and I’m sure this season will offer much of the same. The entry numbers– at least at this point– are pretty strong and with the series picking up some TV coverage, I doubt they will dwindle too much. This is shaping up to be a really exciting season.