ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Connor De Phillippi, the California racer who won the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear season finale from the pole at Road Atlanta, scored his second victory in a row – six months later – winning Round 1 of the 2011 season at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the Team Pelfrey / Justice Brothers Products / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda.
Starting from the inside of the second row, De Phillippi kept his cool through a multi-lap full-course yellow on the first lap of the race, and on the second lap of the re-start, passed pole-sitter Martin Scuncio's #60 Juncos Racing / Fuerza Chile Mazda for the lead… a position he held until he crossed the finish line with a two second margin in hand. Finishing 3rd was French racer Tristan Vautier in the #5 JDC Motorsports / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda; Vautier dominated pre-season testing and was the quickest driver in the first practice session at St. Pete, but his team missed the setup by just a hair and he was content, relatively, to take home 3rd-place points.
The winner of the Expert Series for drivers 30 and older was 2010 Expert Series champion J.W. Roberts; the Texas computer company CEO and owner/driver of Team GDT started from the 14th spot on the starting grid and moved up to finish 11th overall in the #65 Team GDT / General Data Tech Mazda.
"I was amazed at how good a car Team Pelfrey gave me for the race; it was absolutely consistent throughout and never faded at all," said De Phillippi, who finished third in the championship and was Rookie of the Year last year driving for another team. "We were hoping for a podium finish and wanted to strike a balance between being aggressive and still bringing the car home in the points. I was able to keep out of trouble in the race and it feels great to head into Round 2 at Barber Motorsports Park in two weeks leading the championship."
Starting and finishing 4th was Irish Rookie Patrick McKenna, runner-up in the 2010 USF2000 championship and now racing the #48 Team GDT / Motorsport Ireland / Irish Sports Council / General Data Tech Mazda. Rounding out the top-5 was second-year Star Mazda racer Chris Miller, who moved up from 8th on the grid to finish 5th in the #85 JDC Motorsports / Miller Milling / Red Line Oil Mazda.
Several other drives of note included second-year driver Carlos Linares, racing the #20 Linares Racing / Mindeporte Mazda for the completely re-vamped Linares Racing team, now being run by experienced team manager Martin Bates. Linares qualified 11th and moved up to finish 6th, the best result of his Star Mazda career so far. Also well worth mentioning is Nick Mancuso, a sports car racer and extreme adventurer making his open-wheel racing debut at St. Pete. He signed a sponsor deal during the weekend with the Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich chain and drove an excellent race from 13th on the grid to finish 7th in the #27 JDC Motorsports / Jimmy John's / Indeck / Lake Forest Sportscars Mazda.
Round 2 of the 2011 Star Mazda Championship will take place at Barber Motorsports Park on April 10. Fans can follow the drivers through the course of the weekend via the series' web site at www.StarMazda.com, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/