ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – On the final lap of qualifying, and by the thinnest of margins, Chilean rookie Martin Scuncio took the pole position for the 4:10 pm start of today's Round 1 of the 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. His lap of 1:10.921 (91.369 mph) in the #60 Juncos Racing / Fuerza Chile Mazda was just .053 of a second quicker than local hero and St. Petersburg College student Nick Andries, who, on the previous lap, turned a 1:10.974 (91.201 mph) in the Team Pelfrey / Lithionics Battery / GS610 Brake Fluid / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda.
Needless to say, you could hear the collective groan from the Team Pelfrey crew when Scuncio posted his fast lap, as, to that point, it was to be a canary-yellow, all-Pelfrey front row with Californian Connor De Phillippi turning a 1:11.238 (90.963 mph) in the Team Pelfrey / Justice Brothers Products / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda. Instead, he will start on the inside of the second row, leaving Scuncio in a 'Pelfrey sandwich' that might have tactical implications in the first couple of corners after the green.
"I'm really excited and really happy," said Scuncio. "I am looking forward to the race this afternoon, especially now. The Juncos Racing team did a fantastic job. We are still improving in every session, so that's the best thing of all to me. I'm very happy to be on the pole. I want to thank the Mazda Road to Indy for putting together such a great program. It's really cool to be able to race alongside the IZOD IndyCar Series."
Starting on the outside of the second row will be Irish rookie Patrick McKenna, the 2010 USF2000 championship runner-up who graduated to the Star Mazda Championship this year; his lap of 1:11.417 (90.735 mph) puts him 4th on the grid for his first- ever Star Mazda F1-style standing start. Rounding out the top-5 is Tristan Vautier, the French second-season Star Mazda driver who dominated pre-season testing during IndyCar spring training at Barber Motorsports Park. He also led the first session of practice at St. Pete on Friday, but Scuncio showed his muscle in the afternoon, relegating Vautier to second on the time sheets. Today, his lap of 1:11.439 (90.638 mph) is good for the inside of the third row… still well within striking distance for a driver who won two races last season. Only one other driver in the top-5 has experience with winning a Star Mazda Championship race, Connor De Phillippi, who won the 2010 season finale from the pole at Road Atlanta.
Interesting to note that it was in this very Road Atlanta race that Martin Scuncio made his first-ever appearance in Star Mazda competition, stealing the show by very nearly qualifying on the pole and challenging the race leaders throughout the event. His pole at St. Pete confirms that performance was no fluke, and he will be a force to be reckoned with during the season.
Colombian second-year Star Mazda driver Tatiana Calderon – who was 3rd-quick in the last session of Friday practice - turned out the best qualifying result of her Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear career this morning with a fastest lap time that placed her in a sixth place starting position for this afternoon's race. The 18-year-old Colombian driver was the third overall fastest driver yesterday, and that combined with this morning's qualifying result proves she is ready to conquer the Streets of St. Petersburg.
"This was the best qualifying result I've ever had in the Star Mazda Championship," said Calderon. "I still need some more experience with short qualifying sessions and breaking in new, cold tires, but I'm really happy I'm starting near the top of the grid. Hopefully I can gain some positions in the race this afternoon."
The top qualifier in the Expert Series for drivers 30 and older was 2010 Expert Series champion J.W. Roberts; he scored the 14th spot on the starting grid with a 1:13.999 (87.569 mph) in his #65 Team GDT / General Data Tech Mazda.
Round 1 of the 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear will take the green Saturday afternoon at 4:10 pm.
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/