Welcome to the Grand Prix of Baltimore held over Labor Day Weekend, the last holiday weekend of the summer. It’s totally energizing since kids are going back to school and families are looking for that last adventurous opportunity to enjoy one another before fall sets in. Mazda thoughtfully put together a 3-day itinerary to showcase their deeply rooted role in the development of young drivers, from neophytes to pros, in both the IZOD IndyCar Series with a few in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) as well. And rightfully so, as Mazda’s Road to Indy is the official driver development program for IndyCar racing.
The action began Friday, August 31st at 8:00 am and ran until 6:20 pm with various series including: USF2000; Star Mazda; IZOD IndyCar; ALMS; and Indy Lights, practicing and qualifying on the temporary street course for the second year, designed around Baltimore’s downtown and the Inner Harbor at Camden Yards. Thousands of fans gathered around the thrilling scene featuring such notable city landmarks as Oriole Park, the Baltimore Convention Center and the Aquarium. In fact, the 2-mile track with 12-turns was extremely exciting, with cars literally flying over the bump covering the railroad tracks on the back straight that resulted in a few damaged vehicles. Consequently the committee had to reconfigure the course, adding a chicane to slow down drivers before traversing the rail tracks. There was also major action on turn 12 at the corner of Pratt and S. Eutaw streets, where the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards played the role of host hotel. For some reason, maintaining grip on that turn proved exceptionally difficult for many drivers.
Attendees were kept busy and entertained by the races, live music, food vendors, paddock viewing, autograph signing, fan village activities, the Dr. Pepper Ten Go-Cart Track, and many more activities from sun up to sun down. USF2000 Race #1, where every car happens to be a Mazda, kicked off the official racing for Saturday, September 1st. The 30-minute race featured a young class of drivers from the age of 16 who are competing for a scholarship to move into the next level of racing, which is the Star Mazda Championship. Mazda is involved in the grassroots level of racing and actively supports the beginning stages of a young driver’s career that begins with the Skip Barber National Series, which is the very first cycle they must progress through. Tristan Nunez, who began his career with Skip Barber graduated and chose the route towards the path of ALMS, whereas most drivers tend to follow the road to IndyCar racing. Congrats are in order to Spencer Pigot for taking Saturday’s USF2000 Race #1 and Matthew Brabham for earning Sunday’s USF2000 Race #2 checkered flag.
Sage Karam heated things up in the practice session for the Goodyear sponsored Star Mazda Championship by running the race in a blazing 1:28.8 in the Mazda #88 Andretti Autosport / Comfort Revolution car. No other driver came within the 1:28 range for his or her respective laps. The Star Mazda series is one stage above USF2000 and highlights faster cars that run a production RX-8 rotary engine that produces about 260 horsepower. Saturday’s 45-minute Star Mazda race #1 was won by Jack Hawksworth, who is also leading in the points standing, while Sage Karam landed the Star Mazda #2 title on Sunday. From Star Mazda, successful young guns move on to the Firestone Indy Lights Series, and then to the big leagues with IndyCar.
Mazda has two cars running in the ALMS Series for Dyson Racing in the LMP1 class. The reason for jumping from entry-level development racing to ALMS is because of the bigger audiences and the fact that Mazda loves endurance racing, which shows off their motorsports technology and performance attributes. From 200-mph prototypes to production GT cars, the timed ALMS race runs for two hours and features different engines from hybrids to diesels. Dyson Racing uses 2-liter turbo Mazda MZR-R AER engines in their two LMP1 cars. They placed first and second in their class Saturday, but fell well short of placing in the top ten of the overall group. The two-man team of Christophe Bouchut and Scott Tucker of Level 5 Motorsports in the LMP2 class took the number one overall spot.
The last race of the weekend for Mazda was Sunday’s Firestone Indy Lights, which preceded the IZOD IndyCar Series event of the day. It’s also the final stage of racing and the official step toward reaching IndyCar. Mazda, as they do in all their championship series, will provide a scholarship for the 2012 Indy Lights victor to move on to Indycar. Positive news for this circuit was the recent announcement of a new car coming in 2014 that will align itself more closely with the technological protocol of the new IZOD IndyCar Series Car. Job well done Mazda!
See you next year for another stirring Labor Day Weekend in Baltimore.