Week 1 of the inaugural 2015 season took the Star Mazda’s to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The 2.238 mile circuit had an 11 turn configuration awaiting the drivers over 20 laps of sim racing.
This season is where the new qualifying format has been implemented. In brief, the new format means qualifying and the race happen in the same session; you have a 15 minute open qualifying session, followed by five minutes of practice, and then the race directly after this. One big difference of this format is that the drivers will no longer have a solid time down for the whole week; rather, they set a time in each qualifying session and the time from that session determines their starting position for the race in that session.
Pole position was taken by Jesus Sicilia (Iberia), who had the familiar face of Kerry Knowlden (UK&I) alongside him on the front row. The race got off to a fairly orderly start – with Sicilia retaining his lead – but that was only until Turn 3. Third placed starter Sebatian Sobik (DE-AT-CH) got his entry all wrong and ended-up careering back on to the track with no control of his vehicle. Sobik slewed into the path of Justin Brunner (Indiana) who had nowhere to go, ending both their races prematurely. In contrast, by the end of the first lap it was clear the top two starters were in a class of their own and would be running away with the race, permitting all went to plan.
It seemed as though overtaking opportunities – in this race at least – were fairly limited. Drivers were either being cautious about finishing in one piece (as we know how fragile these cars can be) or they were happy riding behind the cars ahead, waiting to pounce come later in the race. Surprisingly the Corkscrew hadn’t claimed any victims for crashes or even slowdowns . . . until Lap Eight, that is. Michael Epps (UK&I) was the first front runner to fall victim to Laguna Seca’s signature turn, losing valuable time but still retaining his third place, for now.
The race had spread the field out in to three distinct packs, the top two, third to seventh place and eighth down to the final runner. Although the gaps were fairly large in-between these packs of cars, the Star Mazdas within were tightly packed.
By Lap 14 we had the ultimate finishing positions for the top seven. Although the lack of overtaking made for a fairly boring viewing, the drivers doubtless would have found it intense when running so close to each other throughout the entirety of the race.
In the end, the 3349 SOF (strength of field) was won by Sicilia who came home .3s ahead of Knowlden. Sicilia led every lap, although Knowlden did have the privilege of setting the fastest lap of the race. Jan Schwitter (DE-AT-SCH) – who benefited from Epps’ mistakes – rounded-out the podium taking a solid third position.
With his win, Sicilia took the early advantage in the overall points standings. The next track the Star Mazda championship heads to is the famous Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. One thing to also mention is that the 2x champion Kevin Gelly-Rufat won’t be retaining his crown for a third time in succession, from what he said prior to the beginning of the season.
The top 5 at the end of the opening week:
Jesus Sicilia – 210
Gregory Tanson – 194
Oscar Tolnay – 181
Simon Zajac – 174
Kerry Knowlden – 170