AUSTIN, Texas – Diego Ferreira had displayed dramatic improvement during his rookie season in 2012, and the youngster from Maracay, Venezuela, clearly demonstrated he had continued on that upward curve over the winter as he came out of the blocks to score a fine first-ever victory in today’s opening round of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires at Circuit of The Americas.
Ferreira, 19, claimed a surprise pole position earlier this afternoon, posting the fastest time on the very last lap of qualifying and narrowly eclipsing pre-season favorite Matthew Brabham, who had set the pace in convincing style during pre-race tests for Andretti Autosport. Brabham, in turn, only narrowly edged the Team Pelfrey pair of Spencer Pigot, from Orlando, Fla., and Petri Suvanto, from Nurmo, Finland, as the top four were covered by a scant .089 second around the demanding 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course.
A messy start saw Ferreira maintain his advantage over Brabham on the steep uphill climb to Turn One, but behind him there was mayhem as the remainder of the 16-car field jockeyed for position. An aggressive start saw Nick Andriesleap from 11th to third, but not for long as he tangled with Colombian teammate Juan Piedrahita at the tight left-hand hairpin. Both cars limped around to the pits and retired.
Colombian rookie Juan Acosta took full advantage, while teenaged Californian Kyle Kaiser exited the first corner in sixth, sandwiched by the two Team Pelfrey cars, but promptly lost control in the middle of the Esses. Kaiser, fortunately, was able to continue with only a minimal loss of time.
Teenaged Californian Kyle Kaiser exited the first corner in sixth, sandwiched by the two Team Pelfrey cars, but promptly lost control in the middle of the Esses. Kaiser, fortunately, was able to continue with only a minimal loss of time.
Ferreira remained under some pressure from Brabham for the first couple of laps, but soon began to edge clear. Brabham, meanwhile, was struggling to match his form from testing and slipped back toward the clutches of Pigot, who passed Gutierrez on the opening lap and then overtook Acosta for third on lap three.
Pigot was charging along, matching the pace of the race leader as he whittled a deficit of more than 3.5 seconds to Brabham to be on his tail by the end of lap nine. Next time around, he pulled out of Brabham’s draft on the long back straightaway to sweep effortlessly past into second place, which he held to the finish to claim top rookie honors. Pigot eventually crossed the line just 4.015 seconds adrift of race winner Ferreira, who also posted the fastest lap of the race – by a meager 0.013s over Pigot – to ensure he will start tomorrow’s Round 2 from the pole.
“Our plan was to go into the first corner in first position and try to start making a good gap. The start was difficult,” said Ferreira. “[Brabham] was really fast at the start and I had to brake a lot later and made it and just pushed from there. I knew I had a really good gap at the end of the race and slowed up a bit to make sure everything was okay and finish the race. This win is awesome. Last year I was a rookie learning the tracks and everything. This year maybe it’s my year, I hope, to fight for the championship.”
Brabham completed the podium, a further 4.8 seconds adrift, followed by Acosta and Suvanto, who persevered impressively despite suffering damage to his car’s rear wing on the very first lap.