Kart racing, or karting, is probably the cheapest, safest way to introduce drivers to motor racing. It is considered the first step in any serious racer's career and can prepare drivers for high-speed wheel-to-wheel racing by helping develop quick reflexes, precision car control and decision-making skills. It also brings an awareness of the various parameters that can be tweaked to improve the competitiveness of the kart that also exist in other forms of motor racing.

It’s for these reasons karting is the first rung on Mazdaspeed’s renowned driver development ladder. For years, Mazda has partnered with the Skip Barber Racing School to cull the finest hot shoes on the planet via the academy’s yearly Karting Scholarship Shootout, and in November 2011 Mazdaspeed and Skip Barber reteamed to stage the 15th annual showdown at Mazda’s motorsports home in North America, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California.

New to the Skip Barber Shootout this year was the addition of the first annual Race Series Champion Shootout, which had eight racers join the 22 karters to compete in separate classes over four days for roughly $250,000 in scholarships toward competing in the upcoming winter or summer season in the Skip Barber Race Series. Through a battery of on and off track training modules, contestants were judged on performance, presentation, improvement and other criteria.

Guest speakers at the shootout included past and current racers Townsend Bell, Gerardo Bonilla, Derek Daly and Communications Officer of Mazdaspeed Motorsports Dean Case. Celebrity judges included SPEED broadcaster Bob Varsha and long-time auto racing writer and broadcaster Jeremy Shaw. The winners joined an esteemed list of past Skip Barber Racing School scholarship winners including Ryan Hunter Reay, Michael Valiante, Bryan Sellars, AJ Allmendinger, Alexander Rossi, Spencer Pigot and many others.

The shootout began with the karters receiving an intensive program dedicated to safety courtesy of the FIA Motorsports Safety Development Fund. Drivers participated in a series of modules including sliding recoveries on the skid pad, a highway safety discussion and an autocross session. Through these sessions, karters were able to not only improve on their everyday driving skills but also learn new, safer driving techniques.

Motorsports legend Derek Daly held a seminar on day one, coaching the young racers on what it takes to be the overall champion, both on and off the track. In addition, with communicative skills also being taken into consideration, each karter had a mock interview with Varsha and Shaw, two well-known figures in motorsports communications.

Karters finished the day with a session on the Skip Barber Racing School super autocross in the Formula Skip Barber 2000 race car—the first time in the car for many of the karters. The clouds came and it started to rain as the session came to a close.

Day two of the shootout saw karters joined by contestants of the Race Series Champion Shootout. Rain came down as participants spent the morning inside attending seminars from Mazdaspeed Communications Officer Case, SPEED broadcaster Varsha, long-time auto racing writer and broadcaster Shaw and Skip Barber Alumnus Gerardo Bonilla. Covering everything from the business of motorsports, to media relations to data analysis, the young racers were presented with a plethora of information that, if used, will prove to be invaluable for their budding careers.

After the seminars, drivers split into three groups and were finally able to show their skills on the race track in the Formula Skip Barber 2000 race car.

Day three began with racers getting acclimated to the track and improving on the previous day’s lap times. After lunch, the racers were thrown a slight curveball; instead of just practicing on track for their second session of the day, they were organized to race in a competitive module, with two warm up laps and 10 green-flag laps.

Designed to evaluate the each racer’s adaptability, judgment and competitive nature, the competitive module allowed judges to get a glimpse of what areas each racer excelled in and where they could use improvement. The competitive modules were not designed on a winner-takes-all basis, but were strictly another tool for evaluation.

After four days of intense training, seminars, on-track sessions and constant evaluations, the winners of the Skip Barber Racing School 15th Annual Karting Scholarship Shootout and the Race Series Champion Shootout were chosen by the expert panel of judges after almost three hours of deliberation. Danilo Estrela and Tristan DeGrand were the top winners of the event, each winning a full season in the Skip Barber presents the Mazda Winter or Summer Race Series. All scholarship winners will be able to use their funds for either the upcoming Skip Barber presents the Mazda Winter or Summer Race Series.

2011 Skip Barber Race Series Champion Shootout Award Winners

1st Place Danilo Estrela Full season in the Skip Barber presents
the Mazda Winter or Summer Race Series
2nd Place Kenton Koch $30,000
3rd Place Franco Aragones $26,000
4th Place Andrew Hobbs $20,000
5th Place Michael Johnson $15,200
6th Place RC Enerson $10,000
7th Place Jake Eidson $10,000

2011 Skip Barber Karting Scholarship Shootout Award Winners

1st Place Tristan DeGrand Full season in the Skip Barber presents
the Mazda Winter or Summer Race Series
2nd Place (TIE) Nick Neri $28,000
2nd Place (TIE) Adrian Starrantino $28,000
4th Place Aaron Teliz $20,000
5th Place Leonardo Jafet $15,200
6th Place Ayla Agren $10,000
7th Place Aiden Landuaer $10,000
8th Place Nicholas Silva $8,000
9th Place Nicolas Armien $8,000
10th Place Jack West $8,000