The 2012 Mazda Road to Indy season officially opened this weekend as the USF2000 National Championship, Star Mazda Championship and Indy Lights series took to the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. as part of the IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Pete. As usual there was plenty of great junior formula racing. Here’s a quick recap.
USF2000 National Championship
Spencer Pigot swept the USF2000 competition claiming both race wins (he’s won 3 of 4 to open the season). Still, his lead is just a slim two points ahead of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Matthew Brabham who finished runner-up in both races in St. Petersburg. Brabham finished race two despite missing a portion of his front wing.
RC Enerson also swept the competition, claiming both national class wins while driving for ZSports Midwest. He, too, leads by just two points over Scott Rettich.
Honorable mention has to go to Matthew Di Leo who finished third for his family-run privateer team MDL Racing in Race 2. Shannon McIntosh made a run from 25th to 11th in Race 1 and Dalton Kellett drove from 33rd to 14th earning “hard charger” honors in Race 2.
Connor De Phillippi qualified on pole and controlled the opening Star Mazda race for his first win of 2012. Jack Hawksworth won Race 2 driving for St. Pete’s own Team Pelfrey. The win was Hawksworth’s first career Star Mazda win and first in North America. He finished second behind De Phillippi in the opening race and subsequently exits the weekend with a 10-point lead in the championship.
Sage Karam impressed onlookers in both races after missing the opening qualifying session due to a crash in practice. Rebounding well, Karam drove from 22nd to 8th in the opening race and finished 7th after starting 12th in Race 2. Rookie Ryan Tveter was involved in a big barrel-roll crash during the second race but emerged from the fiery wreck (oil fire) unhurt, despite a heavy impact with the wall on the outside of Turn 1. Said Tveter post race, “In terms of a crash it looked big but it really wasn’t that bad.”
Before the Indy Lights race I was asked how I would gauge Tristan Vautier’s chances of winning the 2012 Indy Lights championship. My response (per Twitter’s 140-character limit): It’s a long season but [Vautier] sure has been impressive so far and showed remarkable consistency last season in Star Mazda.
His consistency is off to a good start in Indy Lights, too. Vautier led all 45 laps of the St. Petersburg 100 en route to the win in his first career Indy Lights race. Afterwards he emphasized focus on taking the season one race at a time. “Next week it starts all over,” he said.
Aside from laying down some fast, consistent, laps on the 1.8-mile street circuit, Vautier managed three restarts perfectly and exited Florida with a 13-point lead in the championship over second-place finisher and sophomore racer Esteban Guerrieri. Sebastian Saavedra completed the podium. Vautier punctuated the win by qualifying on pole and setting the fastest lap of the race (67.9783 seconds, 95.325 mph). Rookie Oliver Webb was fourth with Victor Carbone rounding out the top five.
The Indy Lights race will be broadcast at 5 p.m. (EST), March 29, on NBC Sports Network.