The Pro Mazda race series kicked off its 2013 campaign at the pristine Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. All of the young drivers were on equal footing as it was the first race at the 3.40 mile circuit for all of them. Three days of testing prior to the event had helped to get the drivers up to speed, however, and race day saw a closely packed field ready to fight it out. Spencer Pigot paced the morning warm-up session in his Team Pelfrey entry with a 2:02.618, pipping Juncos Racing driver Diego Ferreira’s 2:02.952, and felt that there might be a little more speed to find before the weekend was over.
“I think we’re pretty close right now, but with the GRAND-AM cars out there laying down more and more rubber we‘ll have to wait and see,” said Pigot. “There might still be some more out there to get.”
The biggest surprise of the morning warm-up was the time put in by Matthew Brabham, who only netted a 2:04.666, well off his previous pace from testing.
Brabham’s pace was not a concern once qualifying started, though. At the mid-point of the session, the Andretti Autosport shoe was atop the time sheet with a 2:03.289 lap. A back-and-forth qualifying session saw no fewer than five drivers take a turn atop the scoring pylon. Diego Ferreira, Petri Suvanto, Matthew Brabham, Spencer Pigot, and Kyle Kaiser all held fast lap honors at some point during qualifying. Ferreira, however, finally topped the time sheets for good with a 2:03.121 lap in his Juncos Racing ride. Brabham (2:03.148) and Pigot (2:03.181) rounded out the top three in the qualifying order.
After qualifying, I made my way to the Juncos Racing trailer and spoke with the jubilant pole sitter.
“Heck of a way to start the season,” Ferreira said. “Yeah, it was really close. All of us made our fast lap on our last lap.”
Ferreira said a change to fresh Cooper Tires during the last half of qualifying made the difference for him in grabbing the pole.
“I started out on used tires, but then I pitted to change out to the new Coopers. It was coming in better and better each lap and I got a lot of heat in the tires, so I had to slow down one lap and then go again for the perfect lap. It came, and it was a really, really good lap. I’m really happy for the team. They did a really good job,” Ferreira explained.
Andretti Autosport driver Brabham lamented a broken front wing adjuster that caused him to fight massive understeer throughout qualifying but also set straight the record on his “lack” of speed in warm-up.
“Whatever tires we used for the warm-up this morning we have to use for the race tomorrow, so the least laps we could do the best,” Brabham said. “We decided just to do the last little bit of the session, and that ended up getting red flagged and that kind of hindered us a bit. But we’re not out there to win the warm-up, so we’re just getting ready for qualifying. We definitely had a lot of pace in testing, but it seems everyone has kind of caught up with us a little bit, so it’s definitely gonna be tough in the race.”
“In qualifying we had a front wing adjuster break, so we had no front wing on the right hand side of the car so we were struggling with quite a bit of under steer,” Brabham continued. “It was so close up front with the top three all being within a tenth of one another. Any little thing could have just pipped us above them, but I’m sure they all their own issues as well. We’re looking forward to the race now.”
Matthew Brabham made a great jump on the start to briefly take the lead heading into turn one, but Diego Ferreira made a bold move down the inside under braking to retake the lead. Turn 1 didn’t disappoint as there were three- and four-wide moves throughout the pack on the start. One of the JDC Motorsports entries received damage during one of the melees.
Spencer Pigot got off to a slow start after being pushed wide at turn 1 on the start, but he battled back past Kyle Kaiser to retake the third spot before setting sail after Matthew Brabham and Diego Ferreira. Pigot cut away at Brabham’s margin, eventually taking over the second spot on lap 9. Pigot was able to gap Brabham, but leader Ferreira was long gone by this point. The Juncos Racing/Team Viso driver proved that last years “Most Improved Driver” award was no fluke, posting fast lap of the race (2:03.418) and leading every lap of race one enroute to victory. The podium finishers were the only drivers to break into the 2:03 bracket in the race.
Final Order – Race 1:
1. Diego Ferreira (Juncos Racing) Pole, Most Laps Led, Fast Race Lap
2. Spencer Pigot (Team Pelfrey)
3. Matthew Brabham (Andretti Autosport)
4. Juan Acosta (M1 Racing)
5. Petri Suvanto (Team Pelfrey)
6. Scott Anderson (Juncos Racing)
7. Zach Meyer (JDC Motorsports)
8. Kyle Kaiser (World Speed Motorsports)
9. Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport)
10. Jose Gutierrez (Martiga D D)
11. Lloyd Read (JDC Motorsports)
12. Jeff Garibotti (Experts Division Winner)
13. Patrick Linn (PRL Motorsports)
14. Jay Horak (AutoEnginuity)
15. Juan Piedrahita (JDC Motorsports) (Retired -12 laps)
16. Nick Andries (JDC Motorsports) (Retired -12 laps)
Ferreira celebrated his first Pro Mazda victory in style, besting the two favorites going into the day. While it may have surprised some in the stands and the paddock, Ferreira wasn’t one of them. “Well, on the start I hit the (rev) limiter on my upshift and Matthew got past me. I stuck to the plan, though, and went in on the brakes and made the pass. I wanted to be in first place after the first turn and be able to push fast laps. That’s we were able to do,” Ferreira recounted.
Day two saw drivers and teams make the final tweaks and adjustments to their cars in hopes of improving their positions. Diego Ferreira led off the race from the pole position after race one’s finishing results set the grid for race two. But when Ferreira slid wide in turn 1, Brabham capitalized and took the lead for good, checking out on the rest of the field.
Some first turn carnage saw both Team Pelfrey entries take damage, with Spencer Pigot being forced from the race. Petri Suvanto was able to mount a gallant comeback after pitting for repairs, eventually recovering to finish a very impressive 5th. Shelby Blackstock and Lloyd Read benefitted from the melee, though, with Blackstock moving from 8th to 2nd and Read going from 9th to 5th by the exit of turn 2.
Blackstock eventually took home a podium with a hard-earned 3rd place finish. Blackstock’s feat was even more impressive given that he had just jumped out of a Ford Mustang having completed the Continental tires Sports Car Challenge Race mere minutes before heading to the Pro Mazda grid. Blackstock shook off any notion that it was a disadvantage, though.
“It wasn’t too bad,” Blackstock said. “I did it a lot in the Skip Barber series, so it was an easy transition. The Mustang is really big, sloppy, and heavy, and the Pro Mazda is much more nimble. But actually, the spots where you brake on the racetrack are the same in both cars.”
Brabham’s Andretti Autosport team obviously made the proper adjustments to cure the poor handling Brabham suffered from in race one. Even a brief caution for Juan Piedrahita on lap 8 that erased an 8.4 second lead wasn’t enough to hold back Brabham. Brabham simply turned out an out lap 1.5 seconds quicker than the field when the race went back green.
Brabham also turned the fastest lap of the race with a 2:03.116, with only Suvanto able to break into the 2:03 range with him, albeit .7 in arrears. Brabham was understandably pleased after the previous day’s frustrations.
“The car was just fantastic,” Brabham said. “We were up late last night trying to figure out where we lost our speed since we were so fast all through testing leading up to this race. We kind of lost some of that speed and everyone caught up. It was a shock not to be able to fight for the win in the first race, but that happens in racing. I was still thrilled with third yesterday, but it definitely feels better to win, I can tell you that.”
Second-place finisher Diego Ferreira took control of the points battle after the weekend and will head to the streets of St. Petersburg with a narrow advantage over Brabham. “It was a pretty hard race,” Ferreira said, lamenting the first-turn incident with Pigot. “The car was really different from yesterday, but it was okay.”
The Pro Mazda series will race next at the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida alongside the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Final Order – Race Two:
1. Matthew Brabham (Andretti Autosport) Most Laps Led, Fastest Race Lap
2. Diego Ferreira (Juncos Racing)
3. Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport)
4. Scott Anderson (Juncos Racing)
5. Petri Suvanto (Team Pelfrey)
6. Kyle Kaiser (World Speed Motorsports)
7. Zack Meyer (JDC Motorsports)
8. Nick Andries (JDC Motorsports)
9. Lloyd Read (JDC Motorsports)
10. Jose Gutierrez (Martiga D D)
11. Patrick Linn (PRL Motorsports)
12. Jeff Garibotti (E)
13. Jay Horak (E)
14. Juan Acosta
15. Juan Piedrahita (JDC Motorsports)
16. Spencer Pigot (Team Pelfrey)