Watching The Future: Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear The Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear took their turn on the track, and in doing so, featured some of the best and brightest rising stars for tomorrow's INDYCAR.
For the uninitiated, Star Mazda represents the rung between USF2000 and Firestone Indy Lights on the Mazda Road to Indy. The cars weigh over a half ton, are powered by Mazda's 260-hp "Renesis" rotary engine, and top out about 160 mph. The car is versatile, suited to both road racing and the ovals, both of which are well-represented on the Star Mazda Championship schedule.
Although Star Mazda's prime focus is developing future racing talent (which it has in abundance; Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Rafael Matos, and many others passed through Star Mazda on their way to the IZOD IndyCar Series), it also includes an "Expert" series for drivers 30 and older. This is a "race within a race"; all cars compete at the same time, but a separate championship is awarded for these older drivers in addition to the series championship.
The current Star Mazda series is a who's who of open wheel prospects. A healthy slate of Americans including Sage Karam, Connor de Philipi, Chris Miller, and Nick Mancuso will go up against international drivers such as France's Tristan Vautier, Chile's Martin Scuncio and Ireland's Patrick McKenna. Although every driver won't make the leap to the next level, they battle as they fight for the right to advance to the next level. Remember, the winner of the Star Mazda Championship obtains a scholarship to compete in Firestone Indy Lights, and you had best bet that's an honor they'll scrap for. They'll see last year's series champ, Conor Daly, driving for Firestone Indy Lights powerhouse Sam Schmidt motorsports, and they'll do everything they can to ensure that's them in 2011.
Star Mazda is a well-regarded platform, and one you'll want to see in person. Aside from supporting IZOD IndyCar Series dates at St. Petersburg, Barber, the Milwaukee Mile, Iowa, and others, Star Mazda also runs the Night Before The 500, a popular event at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Raceway. Those who have attended (and watched current Firestone Indy Lights Conor Daly ) will tell you it's the perfect ramp-up to the Indianapolis 500 the next day. You can also spot them along with Firestone Indy Lights at Trois-Riveries, Quebec in August.
If you can't make one of the Star Mazda events, you can still follow the series with their presence on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/starmazdaseries) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/starmazdaseries). They also maintain a very handy website (http://www.starmazda.com/), complete with driver profiles, stats, news updates, and much more.
There's nothing quite like following a prospect's career from their earliest forays to the day they sign the contract to arrive in the "big cars". In a revitalized ladder system and the Mazda Road To Indy, watching tomorrow's stars develop in the Star Mazda Championship is a key part of that experience. Do yourself a favor and follow along; it can only add to your INDYCAR experience.
Zachary Houghton runs the INDYCAR blog & fan site INDYCAR Advocate (www.indycaradvocate.com). He can be reached on Twitter (@indycaradvocate) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org