Petri Suvanto Shines At Star Mazda Championship Official Series Oval Test

Winning the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship funding and making the move up to Indy Lights next year is the Holy Grail for every driver competing in the 2012 edition of the Star Mazda Championship. A recent official Star Mazda series test at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis proved how deep their desire runs.

The test, which provided many drivers with their first-ever experience on an oval, served as a prelude to two oval races in a row, beginning with the Night Before the 500 on May 26, followed by a race at Iowa Speedway on June 22-23.

Finnish rookie Petri Suvanto, a winner at Lucus Oil Raceway in USF2000 last year, proved he would be a force to be reckoned with, setting the quick time in both the three-hour morning session and the two-hour afternoon session in the heat of the day. Suvanto, 19, from Nurmo, Finland, turned the fastest lap of the test on Lap 56 of the morning session, 20.236 (122.040 mph), driving the same #81 Team Pelfrey / Mazda Road to Indy Mazda he used to score a podium finish in Round 2 at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Suvanto has scored one podium finish so far in 2012, and three Top-5s, placing him sixth in the championship. "I had one of the best races of my career here last year, so I feel I know the track like the inside of my pocket," says Suvanto. "The Star Mazda car is different, more powerful and faster, but if the team gives you a good car and you drive very smoothly, it is not so difficult to adjust. My season so far has not gone quite as I hoped; the competition here is very strong and even a small mistake costs you many places, so I'm still learning, and in the next two races, both ovals, it is critical to drive perfectly... and that is my goal."

In the final two-hour afternoon session, saving the best last, he posted a lap of 20.348 as the clock expired. His final flyer earned him top-of-the-time-sheet honors over Sage Karam, who had led most of the second session with a fast time of 20.393 in his #88 Andretti Autosport / Comfort Revolution Mazda. Karam, the 2011 Star Mazda Rookie of the Year, won two of the three ovals on last year's schedule. Karam was the 2010 USF2000 champion and raced in Star Mazda last year with Mazda Road to Indy scholarship funding; he finished third at the 2011 Night Before the 500.

English rookie Jack Hawksworth set the overall 2nd-fast time of 20.299 (121.616 mph) on Lap 73 of the morning session. Hawksworth, a two-time race winner so far this season and currently leading the championship driving the #82 Team Pelfrey / TORGOEN Swiss Watches / EXA Networks Mazda, is new to oval racing. He slipped to fourth in the final session, but only by 0.173-seconds. But it should be noted that in both sessions the top dozen cars were all within one second of each other, a reliable indicator that the Night Before the 500 will feature some intense, wheel-to-wheel action.

And what of the most experienced driver in the series, and winner of last year's Night Before the 500 (as well as this year's Round 1 at St. Petersburg), Connor De Phillippi? He was 6th fast in the morning session with a lap of 20.581 (119.994 mph) in the #2 Juncos Racing / ModSpace Racing / One24 Mazda, and followed that up with a 5th-fast run in the afternoon, 20.601 (119.878 mph).
“Today was a productive day of testing with the team,” said De Phillippi, who set the Star Mazda track record of 19.999 at Lucas Oil Raceway in 2011. “We are still working on improving many areas of the car to put it up front for the race this month. A big thank you to Juncos Racing and ModSpace Motorsports for getting me on track. Now we are onwards and upwards for the Night Before the 500.”

Other interesting results include Italian F3 and GP3 veteran Gabby Chaves who was 3rd-quick in the morning with a lap of 20.446 (120.786 mph) in his #19 JDC Motorsports / OMP Mazda, but slipped to 10th in the afternoon. Gustavo Menzes, who finished 7th in the race last year, was 5th-fastest in the morning with a 20.524 (120.327 mph) in the #83 Team Pelfrey / TrueCar.com Mazda; he fell to 8th in the afternoon. Zach Veach, on the other hand, was 7th-fastest in the morning, but improved to 3rd-fastest in the afternoon with a 20.483 (120.568 mph) in his #77 Andretti Autosport / Zakoski Data Backup Mazda.