After securing the pole position in front of the IndyCar paddock at Infineon Raceway during Saturday’s Star Mazda qualifying session, Tristan Vautier knew exactly what he needed to do in the race: hold onto the lead.
And that’s exactly what he did. The 22-year-old championship leader built a gap large enough to survive a late-race charge by Connor De Phillippi, winning Round 9 of the 2011 Star Mazda Championship in Sonoma, Calif.
Vautier notched the pole position with a track record, touring Infineon in 1:28.516 on the Indy layout. The fast lap marked his fourth pole of the season. The previous Star Mazda record of 1:28.719 was set on the full-course configuration by Pablo Donoso in 2005.
At the start of the race, Vautier held his lead through Turn 1 and led the field up Infineon’s infamous hill. Behind him, Gustavo Menezes — who qualified second — was relegated to third by Connor De Phillippi. Farther back, Nick Andries — De Phillippi’s teammate at Team Pelfrey — also moved up a spot securing fourth place, after starting fifth.
The action slowed for several laps as the top-eight worked to pull away from the rest of the field, running lap times in the 1:30 range. On Lap 4, Vautier became the first driver — and only driver as it would stand — to break into the 1:29s, clocking a fast lap of 1:29.877.
By Lap 7, Vautier had built a small lead over De Phillippi. Just behind the lead duo, however, a battle was brewing between Menezes and Andries for third place. Andries was putting heavy pressure on Menezes trailing by less than a half second. Meanwhile, Sage Karam began to put similar pressure on fifth-place runner JV Horto. It was only a matter of time before a move was made.
On Lap 18, Karam, Tatiana Calderon and Zach Veach — who was making his series debut — dropped Horto back to eighth. Three laps later, Menezes dropped from third to 10th following a spin as Andries dove to the inside of Turn 10. Karam, watching the action unfold, worked his way past Andries for a shot at the podium. Andries continued to pressure Karam, however, and made the pass stick on Lap 26.
Up front, Vautier’s lead began to diminish. On Lap 10, the Frenchman held a three-second advantage over De Phillippi, but with 10 laps to go the lead was just over two seconds. With two laps to go, De Phillippi closed to within a second. That was a close as he would get, though, as Vautier held on for the win — his third of the season — and extended his lead in the championship standings to 19 points.
On the final lap Horto passed Veach, a USF2000 regular, for sixth place while Menezes made a move for ninth after dropping back to 11th with 12 laps to go.
The Star Mazda Championship returns to action next weekend, Sept. 4, at the Grand Prix of Baltimore before wrapping up its season Sept. 18 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Star Mazda Championship
Round 9 Results
- Tristan Vautier – JDC Motorsports
- Connor De Phillippi – Team Pelfrey
- Nick Andries – Team Pelfrey
- Sage Karam – Andretti Autosport
- Tatiana Calderon – Juncos Racing
- JV Horto
- Zach Veach
- Joao Jardim
- Gustavo Menezes
- Nick Mancuso
- Mikael Goikhberg
- Larry Pegram
- Carlos Linares
- JW Roberts
- Phil Fogg
- Walt Bowlin
- Patrick O’Neil
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