SEBRING, Fla., March 17 - Star Mazda qualifying was rained out Thursday afternoon at Sebring International Raceway, and the grid for tomorrow afternoon's race was established by the fastest lap each driver recorded during the three official practice sessions: two in the dry on Wednesday or the third one in the wet Thursday morning.
Although it is St. Patrick's Day it turned out the luck of the South Americans was stronger than the luck of the Irish, at least as far as the Star Mazda grid went. With the starting line-up set by practice times Brazilian Raphael Matos got the pole, but Andersen Walko Racing's own Pablo Donoso, who is from Chile, will be right beside him in second place. It was an especially stellar showing for Donoso, who is making his first Star Mazda start and competing in his first race ever at this historic road course in central Florida.
The three other Andersen Walko Racing drivers did very well too. Graham Rahal of New Albany, Ohio will start sixth with Aston, Pa.'s Robbie Pecorari lined up right behind him in eighth. Jonathan Klein of Long Grove, Ill. had to switch to his back-up car but he was fast in it on Thursday morning and he'll start 12th when the green drops Friday on the 42-car field at 2:40 p.m.
Matos' fastest lap was a 2:00.416 (110.617 mph) while Donoso's fastest lap was a 2:00.879 (110.193 mph). Rahal's was a 2:01.446 (109.678 mph); Pecorari's was a 2:01.703 (109.447 mph) and Klein's was a 2:02.285 (108.926 mph).
Both of the drivers on the front row set their fastest laps during the second practice session. Rahal was fast right out of the box, recording his fastest lap in the first session, in which he was second only to Matos. Pecorari's fastest lap was set in the dry on Wednesday in the second session but he topped everybody Thursday morning in the wet session. Klein posted his fastest lap in the wet session, which was third-fastest of the day, and there's no telling how fast he can go in that car in the dry.
The weather forecast for tomorrow is for dry conditions.
The race is slated to be 45 minutes long. It will be taped for later coverage on SPEED.
Donoso's entry is sponsored by Cristal Beer. Rahal's carries the logo of the Bobby Rahal Automotive Group. Pecorari's primary sponsor is SAI Hydraulics. Klein is backed by Nexus Distribution Corp., Midwest Steel & Services, Ironclad Performance Wear and ProStar.
Andersen Walko Racing's office is in Fairfield, N.J. and its shop is in North Versailles, Pa. For more information please see www.andersenwalko.com, www.starmazda.com, www.americanlemans.com and www.restartcommunications.com or call (973) 244-1900.
"I'm happy with our car's set-up. We will have a good car for the race tomorrow. The track is great. I'm really happy to be here and to be able to drive on such a famous track. Second starting position is great for my first Star Mazda race. I'm really pleased. Eliseo [Salazar] has been helping with the set-up and coaching me on the radio. He is a great help."
"The decision to set the field by practice times is for the best, even though it was against some people's wishes. The conditions this morning in the rain were bad; the rain tires can't take the big puddles here, and with all the spray and the wheel spin, it was a good decision to forgo qualifying in the wet. Sixth is worse than what I thought I'd qualify in the dry. I think I would have been higher. There are a few cars faster than us, but we've consistently been one of the fastest cars here, so I'm confident going into the race. If we can get by a few guys we have a chance for a win or a podium, for sure."
"I had some problems traffic-wise in practice, but I'm feeling pretty confident about the race. We have a good race set-up on our car, and I think we'll be right there. The car got better and better as the practice sessions wore down, so if we can stay out of trouble, we should be right there at the end."
"We had a handling issue that we couldn't figure out, so we went to the back-up car for the rain session this morning and we were third-quick. Unfortunately we're not starting where I'd hope we'd be, but I think we'll do fine tomorrow. I know we'll have a good car for the race. We know we're quick in the rain, and we can only go up higher in the dry. I'll just have to put my head down and go. I have to concentrate on not making any mistakes, staying out of trouble, and not burning up my tires."
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