BALTIMORE GRAND PRIX
Inaugural event sees Dyson Racing go 1-2 in ALMS, Mazda Road to Indy in action
Humaid Al Masaood and Steven Kane won their first American Le Mans Series race at the inaugural running of the Baltimore Grand Prix, part of a massive Mazdaspeed attack on the city’s streets in early September. In open-wheel action, Petri Suvanto clinched the 2011 Cooper Tires presents USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda, sharing the spotlight with Round 11 and 12 winners Wayne Boyd and Spencer Pigot, respectively. Additionally, JDC MotorSports closed to within striking distance of a third Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear title as driver Tristan Vautier scored his fourth win of 2011.
Al Masaood and Kane joined the winner’s club in their No. 20 Oryx Dyson Racing Mazda turbo MZR-R-powered Lola chassis. Chris Dyson and Guy Smith finished second in the No. 16 G-OIL ModSpace/Construct Corps Lola Mazda, giving Dyson Racing its first one-two finish since the 2005 Mid-Ohio race, and providing an appropriate bookend to their one-two qualifying effort.
Dyson drove the first stint in the No. 16 Lola Mazda. “Our goal at the start was to get out in front and push as hard as we could to stretch out a gap we could comfortably maintain.”
Both Dyson cars came into the pits for fuel, tires and driver changes during the first full course yellow 45 minutes into the race. A delay in starting the No. 16 car saw the No. 20 car leave the pits in front and they maintained that order to the end, with the No. 16 car seven seconds back at the end. Dyson Racing led 67 of 71 laps.
“This feels unreal to get this win in such a short period of time,” remarked Kane. “Everyone has done such a fantastic job. You know, as soon as I first drove with Humaid, I knew he had something special. I told him from the very beginning that he could take it to the top and race at the highest levels.”
“I know it is a cliché, but this is still sinking in,” commented Al Masaood. “This is our fifth race in the ALMS with Dyson Racing and it has been an unbelievable experience. The win today shows our shared values and commitment and solidifies our good future.”
“You look at the way Humaid and Steven have been driving, and it has enhanced our overall effort,” said Dyson. “To have two cars running this well is not an easy task. The victory podium photos always show the drivers, but in truth, it is Mazda, G-OIL, ModSpace, Dunlop and AER who should be spraying and enjoying the champagne.”
Suvanto capped off his sensational North American racing debut season by capturing the USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda title in Baltimore. The 18-year-old from Nurmo, Finland—dubbed the ‘Flying Finn’—entered the weekend with a commanding advantage and was able to secure the crown with a second-place finish in Race 1 in front of a huge crowd on the brand-new Maryland street circuit. His efforts will be rewarded with a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to the Star Mazda Championship in 2012 via the Mazda Road to Indy program.
Suvanto’s season included five race wins, four second-place finishes and one third aboard Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 3 Viseko Van Diemen-Mazda. He only failed to finish on the podium once in 11 races.
“We were able to get what we came here for—the championship,” said Suvanto. “Maybe it wasn’t the way we wanted, but the championship is the most important thing.
“Today, I was a bit conservative to try to play it safe for the championship and the points. So overall, I am really happy and this was an emotional day for me and my family as well. I would say this was one of the best event atmospheres of the year. It was pretty special to win [the championship] on these streets.
Boyd, 20, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, claimed victory in the 15-lap race, his second of the season, aboard the No. 4 TheAppBuilder.com/Belardi Auto Racing machine. Boyd, who was fourth in the standings entering the weekend, inched past Zach Veach of Andretti Autosport and sat in third with a five-point advantage as the racers looked forward to Race 2.
Canadian talent Matthew Di Leo with MDL Racing finished third to score his first podium of the year. The 16-year-old from Innisfil, Ontario has been ultra-consistent this season in the No. 33 Res Precast entry and picked up valuable points in a three- way battle for fifth in the championship.
In the second USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda battle of the weekend, Andretti Autosport’s Pigot held off newly crowned series champion Suvanto in a last-lap shootout to claim his third win of the season. Pigot, who started on pole in the No. 8 Team Mazdaspeed/Skip Barber entry, maintained his advantage at the start and fought off challenges from Boyd and then Suvanto to take the checkered flag just .314 seconds ahead of the Finn.
Boyd, 20, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, vaulted from fourth to second at the start, followed by the youngest driver in the field, 15-year-old Luigi Biangardi, from Chicago, Ill. Suvanto, who started second, fell briefly to fifth place before sneaking past Zach Veach toward the end of the first lap. The caution flags then waved for the first time after local driver Bruce Hamilton, from Monkton, Md., found the wall in Turn Four.
Suvanto passed Biangardi soon after the restart, and next time around made a move on Boyd’s No. 4 TheAppBuilder.com/Belardi Auto Racing Van Diemen-Mazda for second place on the run toward Turn One. The unfortunate Boyd soon fell out of the picture with mechanical problems, leaving Suvanto to close in on Pigot for the lead.
Another full-course caution set up a green-white-checkered finish, where Pigot was able to stay on point and secure the victory.
The last Mazdas to take to the track at the Baltimore Grand Prix were Star Mazda’s open wheelers; with his triumph, Vautier further extended his championship advantage entering the season finale by leading every lap in the inaugural race.
Following Vautier across the finish line, just half a second back, was Andretti Autosport driver Sage Karam. Crossing the finish line third was Juncos Racing driver João Victor Horto and rounding out the podium was Expert Series driver Walt Bowlin who finished first in class and sixth overall racing for AIM Autosport.
One week after a dominating performance on the West Coast at Infineon Raceway, the JDC drivers and crew were on the other side of the nation ready to challenge for top honors in the first- ever street race. With no qualifying session being run (due to scheduling changes after cleanup from Hurricane Irene delayed the start of the weekend), the current points standings was used to set the field for Round 10 in Baltimore.
Vautier, having led the title fight since his win in race two, was therefore at the front of the field when the lights went out for the traditional Formula One-style standing start. Getting a clean launch, the second-year racer maintained the advantage through the treacherous first turn. Vautier from that point never relinquished the top spot, overcoming some early race pressure from his nearest championship contender to lead every lap en route to his fourth win of the season.
“I felt very much in control of the race right from the start, although I could see Connor De Phillippi in my mirrors and that always gives a little bit of pressure,” stated Vautier. “About the half-way point I didn't see him anymore and they told me over the radio that he crashed, so that meant I could stop worrying about him and focus instead on not making a mistake.”
For the rest of the field the drama began in the first turn of the first lap when Team GDT driver J.W. Roberts, the 2010 Expert Series (for drivers 30 and older) champion crashed his No. 65 Team GDT/General Data Tech Mazda out of the race. On Lap 2, third-place runner Nick Andries had an incident in the No. 81 Team Pelfrey/Lithionics Battery/GS610 Brake Fluid/Trademark Garage Floors Mazda that forced him into the pits for repairs; when he rejoined the race, it was four laps down and his championship hopes were gone.
On Lap 14, Andries’ Team Pelfrey teammate, Connor De Phillippi, who was in the fight among the top-three in his No. 11 Team Pelfrey/Justice Brothers Products/Trademark Garage Floors Mazda, did not come around for Lap 15, triggering a long full- course yellow. It was a tough day for Team Pelfrey, finishing ninth and tenth respectively.