Mazda team’s charity work highlight of Grand Prix of Alabama weekend

The SpeedSource team arrived at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama with an extra measure of determination for Round 3 of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, the Porsche 250 April 9th, part of the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama weekend. Having a longstanding relationship with Japanese manufacturer Mazda, the team pledged all of the winnings from the No. 70 Castrol Edge Mazda RX-8 to the American Red Cross’ Japan earthquake relief.

The No. 70 qualified sixth for the start, and then team owner Sylvain Tremblay steadily climbed forward in the GT class Saturday afternoon. Co-driver and MAZDASPEED driver development ladder graduate Jonathan Bomarito took control of the car with an hour remaining and pushed the pace, eventually earning a third-place finish for the team.

The podium finish meant SpeedSource was able to donate $6,000 in race winnings to the Red Cross.

“I’m so proud of the team and their effort this weekend,” said Tremblay. “To be able to contribute to such an important cause and motivate other race fans to help is truly humbling for us.”

The enthusiasm carried over to the No. 69 FXDD Mazda RX-8 SpeedSource team car. Defending GT-Class champions and co-drivers Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal are on pace to defend their title; their fourth-place result at Barber gave the duo top-five finishes in the last two races. Mazda also assumed the lead in the Manufacturer Standings.

Dempsey Racing also had a promising run at Barber Motorsports Park, putting two cars in the top 10. Ladder grad Dane Cameron and James Gué finished sixth in the No. 41 Team Seattle/Global Diving & Salvage Mazda RX-8 GT, and actor Patrick Dempsey, Joe Foster and Charles Espenlaub co-drove the No. 40 VISIT FLORIDA/ModSpace/Construct Corps Mazda RX-8 GT to an eighth-place finish.

Cameron impressed by winning both his and Dempsey Racing’s first pole. The twin top-10 result was the first since Dempsey expanded to a two-car operation last year.

Cameron pulled out to a huge lead but the first of the race’s three caution periods should have given him even more of an advantage. A “wave-by that wasn’t” proved to be frustrating for all on the team.

“The yellows didn’t really fall our way, but all you can do is the best you can do with what you have control of,” Foster said. “Everything we had control of today we did pretty well. The No. 41 guys finished sixth, Dane drove a fantastic opening stint and pitted the car in the lead.

“There was some confusion, or really frustration, on our part, to be honest, with the rules because Dane did not get a wave-by on the first yellow when he was the only GT car in front of the overall leader. At that point he should have got a lap up on the field, but that didn’t happen for some reason.”

Gué ran as high as third as the No. 41 team rallied to rebound from the missed opportunity and ultimately the sixth-place finish. “It is frustrating that we don’t have the result to show that we are improving as a group,” Cameron said. “Hopefully sometime soon one of these will fall our way, we will have some luck.”

In Sunday’s open-wheel Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear race – the series another stepping stone along the MAZDASPEED driver development path – French racer Tristan Vautier, who dominated pre-season testing at Barber during IndyCar spring training, put an exclamation point on that dominance with a pole-to-checkers run, building up a 33-second advantage on his way to Victory Lane.

Vautier, who won two Star Mazda races in 2010 and finished fifth in the championship, drove a flawless race in his No. 5 JDC Motorsports / Cecibon / Circuit du Laquais Mazda, never giving up the lead or participating in any of the drama taking place in his rear view mirrors.

"We knew that the track was going to change a lot between the start of the race and the end, and that tires would be the key to the race," said Vautier. "The JDC team and my engineer Rick Cameron gave me a very good car, and it was my job to not slide it around and keep the tires as good as possible in case we needed them at the end of the race. But I got into a good rhythm and the car was very fast without trying too hard, so I just drove at a comfortable pace and was surprised to finish so far ahead.

“The next races are ovals, and I have a lot to learn about racing on them, but the team is working very well together and we all have confidence in each other, which is the most important thing."

Redeeming himself in a substantial way with a run from ninth on the starting grid to second was Nick Andries in the Team Pelfrey / Lithionics Battery / GS610 Brake Fluid / Trademark Garage Floors Mazda. The St. Petersburg college student endured a problematic beginning to his season when a squeeze play at the start of the opening round at the Grand Prix of St. Pete turned his front-row start into a trip into the tire wall on the opening lap.

Scoring the first podium of her Star Mazda career so far, Colombian racer Tatiana Calderon – the lone female driver in the field – battled both Andries and her teammate, J.V. Horto, to finish third in the No. 10 Juncos Racing / JAC Motors Mazda.

Next stop for the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series is Virginia International Raceway in Alton for the Bosch Engineering 250, May 14. The Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear is back in action May 28 at the Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Indiana, for the Night Before 500 race.