Driving the #11 Molecule Labs / Alpinestars / Miller Milling Company / JDC MotorSports Pro Formula Mazda, Adam Christodoulou, from Birmingham, England, scored his eighth podium finish of the season with a third place finish in Round Twelve of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear at Road Atlanta, sending the championship battle between himself and Peter Dempsey down to the finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
“Arriving at Road Atlanta for the Petit Le Mans weekend I knew that it was going to be a big event and the storms that had caused record flooding in the area promised to make it a tough one as well with some crew members being delayed as flights were cancelled leading up to the event,” Christodoulou commented. “I came into the weekend full of confidence following a successful test two weeks prior to the event but the weekend proved to be a battle.”
The first challenge of the weekend would happen halfway through the opening practice session as Christodoulou hit the curbs in turn three a little too hard, sending him off course and damaging the front splitter in the process. Unable to complete the replacement in time for any additional laps he focused on improving in the second promoter test session but was faced with further setbacks as he suffered a partial failure of a rear upright.
“I started getting up to pace, making sure I didn’t have a repeat of the 1st session but something didn’t quite feel right from the rear of the car,” Adam explained. “On about lap 4 suddenly the rear of the car broke loose going into turn 7 and I spun. Luckily it wasn’t a fast corner so I kept the car on the track just producing quite a bit of smoke from the rear tires lighting up. At first I thought something was wrong with the differential, as it seemed a bit unstable going into the corners as well as out of the corners. I made my way into the pit lane, whilst radioing in saying something wasn’t right. We put new tires on and the JDC crew checked over the car, only to realize that the rear upright had partially collapsed. It wasn’t enough to stop the car from moving but it was enough to make the car quite a handful to drive on track. It would have been to dangerous to have carried on testing due to the nature and high speeds of the track and with something not quite right, so at this point we called it a day.”
The JDC MotorSports crew went to work overnight to ensure that everything was correct for the start of official practice. Running on older tires, Christodoulou sat near the top of the timesheets for the majority of the session, only dropping to sixth as others moved to new rubber as the first official session came to an end. Repeating the process for Thursday’s final practice session Adam would post the eighth fastest time ahead of the afternoon qualifying session.
Looking towards the qualifying session the team had planned on a one-stop strategy during the 22-minute session to allow for setup changes if needed. The plans would go out the window when a competitor in the early session spread oil across the track, cutting the second group’s session down to ten minutes.
“The car felt good and I was one of the quickest for the first few laps,” Christodoulou said. “It was the best it had been but I couldn’t improve my time so I finished qualifying in 6th. Looking back perhaps I was a bit too cautious knowing there was oil on the track, but qualifying was over and now it was all about the race.”
Jumping off the starting grid Christodoulou was able to jump up into fourth on the opening lap before a caution flag came out for two cars that had stalled on the grid. On the restart he dove to the inside to try to gain the third position but would be held up and was forced to watch Richard Kent slip past on the outside as the cars into turn three. Teammate Alex Ardoin was able to slipstream past as they headed down the backstraight before Adam regrouped and started focusing on regaining the lost positions.
“I realized how vital it was if you were going to pass into turn one you had to be fully committed, I was close to Alex worked the timing and managed to get past and started to hunt down 4th place,” Adam revealed. “We were halfway through the race and I was getting closer as we started catching up lapped cars and I was doing all I could to use them to my advantage. Richard went for a move on Walt Bowlin into turn 5, there was dust and stones kicking up off the edge of the track, they touched into turn 5 and both of them went across the gravel on the exit making it a bit easier for me to cruise past.”
“I was now looking at getting 3rd place, the final podium position, and once again lapped cars were becoming a challenge. I was getting the timing pretty good at when to overtake them without losing much time. Joel got a little bit sideways out of the last corner and I was on his bumper down the start and finish straight, I pulled out and out broke him into turn one and squeezed passed him.”
As others saw their lap times fall off Adam continued to click off consistent laps and was reeling in second place runner Conor Daly when the checkered flag fell on the 45-minute timed race. “It’s a shame the race wasn’t longer as I could see myself catching up everyone in front. The chequered flag flew and I brought the car home in 3rd and on the podium. I’m happy with the end result considering we struggled earlier in the week. I’ve got to thank the team for the massive amount of effort they put in this week, we proved that even during difficult times, when were a little bit off the pace that we can work even harder at it and pull out a good result.”
As the series enters the final round at Mazda Raceway Lagune Seca Christodoulou sits fifteen points behind Peter Dempsey in what has become a two-man race for the title. “I’m looking forward to Laguna Seca, as I think we made a lot of car set up progress during this week at Road Atlanta, so I know the car will be good. Peter Dempsey got the win and extended his lead to 15 points, but as I’ve found out anything can happen during a race weekend, so I’m looking forward to an exciting last race in my Star Mazda.”
With the 2009 Indy Lights season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway just a few weeks away, some Firestone Indy Lights drivers and teams have begun their plans for the 2010 schedule.
Bryan Herta Autosport, RLR/Andersen Racing, Sam Schmidt Motorsports and AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing all tested potential drivers on September 15-16 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, while Bryan Herta Autosport also tested Sept. 23 at Indiana’s Putnam Park.
Star Mazda frontrunner Adam Christodoulou drove for BHA during the two testing sessions.
“We were very happy to provide Adam his first experience in an (Firestone) Indy Lights car,” Bryan Herta Autosport co-owner Bryan Herta told junioropenwheeltalent.com
“He has shown this year in Star Mazda that he is a driver with great potential, and he demonstrated his speed and maturity again at the test. Adam is clearly on several teams’ short list of drivers for next season, and we will be watching him closely as he tries to win the Star Mazda Championship.”
It’s been an eventful few weeks out here in North America.
After a successful race at Mosport Canada – closing the points gap on the current Star Mazda championship leader Peter Dempsey – we travelled down to Road Atlanta where we were joined by the rest of the team. Arriving here was JDC Motorsport’s newest team member and my team mate for the rest of the season, Chris Miller, who has joined us after competing in Formula 2000 earlier in the year.
The test went really well. It only took a few laps to work out the track basics, but figuring out the blind corners was the trickiest part. It was a hot day, and it didn’t feel like there was much grip. Improvement throughout the day was steady. I was fastest with a small margin – a good end to the day – and we left the track knowing we should have good pace for the next event.
After testing I managed to get a bit of time to go back home to Birmingham, England. I was only there for a week but it’s always good to get some time there. I saw my family and meet up with a few friends during the weekend. Training continued as normal, but I did manage to make it to the Grand Prix Shootout on the Tuesday at Bruntingthorpe Airfield.
The event was attended by six international drivers. Three drivers went and did their evaluations in the morning and I was one of the three doing mine in the afternoon. I managed to meet with Peter Windsor, the man in charge of the New F1 team, USF1, then during my evaluation I was let loose in a Fiat 500 Abarth Spec. The little car performs like a missile, and punched out a good 130bhp from its turbo charged engine (though unfortunately it didn’t quite handle like my Formula Star Mazda!). Still, it was fun to see how far you could push it.
My evaluation was done by Rob Wilson. It was quite strange having some one sitting next to me, marking me. It felt like I was having my driving test all over again, except this time I didn’t have to stick to speed limits! It was definitely enjoyable, but different to what I’m used to. Firstly I was driving a front wheel drive car, secondly the race car had a roof, and last but not least, it’s unusual for me to be sat so high up whilst driving.
The evaluation went well. I didn’t have any ‘offs’ or detours, and I got on really well with all the guys at The Shootout. I must thank David Fleming for organising the event and being patient with my travel arrangements to and from America!
I spent the rest of time at home working until Thursday when I got back on a plane – this time to Indianapolis. This is where the majority of the Indy Car teams and Indy Lights teams are based. I travelled to the Vision Motorsports workshop where I got to meet all of the crew and had a seat fitting. Their workshop is unbelievable. The building is huge, they have at least 10 car bays for the Indy lights, Indy Cars and some of the older models too. They also had the two trucks in there as well as their own paint booth, machine shop and everything else a Indy car team needs to be successful.
Later that day I took a trip to California to meet my current team JDC Motorsports for another test at Laguna Seca – and the track didn’t disappoint at all. In truth, it was awesome!
I’d never been before, but I’ve played on Grand Turismo enough to feel like I know it well. Still, that doesn’t make it easy. I only had one test session before I was heading into qualifying, quickly followed by the race. The main aim for the weekend was to learn the track and get a good setup for the final round of the championship, and thankfully the day went really well. I won both my races, but unfortunately these aren’t point scoring events, however I’m planning on taking my success and repeating my finishing positions in the final round.
Monday morning wasn’t a time to relax; I was on another fling back across America to mid-Ohio. Here I was testing in an Indy Lights car; a 450hp beast of a machine, almost double the horse power of the Star Mazda and with a great deal more downforce. Here I worked with Bryan Herta (ex-Indy car race winner and Indy Lights champion) and Steve Newey the engineer of vision Bryan Herta motorsport.
The test was a good experience. It was another steep learning curve as I had to learn the track as well as the car. I was reaching nearly 160mph at the end of the back straight, but the downforce helps to slow the car down beautifully for the corners. I ran wide a few times but managed to keep the car off the grass, running respectable times and the Vision Bryan Herta crew were impressed with my improvement throughout the day. I ended up just over half a second off the fastest time, completing the 3rd fastest time of the day. I would like to think that if I spent another day in the car I would be right on the pace.
The next few days I spent my time in Indianapolis training and preparing for the next round at Road Atlanta. During my few days there I spent much time at Pit Fit where many of the drivers go to train with sports and race car enthusiast Jim Leo, drivers such as Dario Franchitti (Indy car), Scott Dixon (Indy Car), Townsend Bell (Indy car) and some of my Star Mazda rivals. On the Sunday I also made my way to the HQ of racefanradio.com where I conducted an interview with two of my closest championship rivals – talking about racing in America, next weekend’s race and our individual plans for next year.
Over the weekend I also met up with a few of the Indy Lights drivers to watch the Japan Indy 300, just before I had to pack my bags once more and get ready to head off for this weekends round 12 of the Star Mazda championship race at Road Atlanta.
It’s back to the race, and I’m really looking forward to an excellent weekend on the track.