Autoweek: American Racers at Le Mans

“He’s a great kid with a bright future,” said John Doonan, director of Mazda Motorsports. Doonan saying that about Connor De Phillippi now that De Phillippi has a full-time ride with Porsche speaks to the relationship the 20-year-old driver has maintained with the people who helped him in the past.

De Phillippi, of San Clemente, Calif., competes this season in the Porsche Carrera Cup in Germany as a Porsche Junior Driver, regarded as the first step in building a career under Porsche’s racing umbrella. It’s a change for De Phillippi, not only geographically, but his previous experience was in open-wheel cars.

“Things have really happened fast,” he said. “Just eight or nine months ago, I never would have guessed I’d be living in Germany, racing in Europe.”

Which is great, but it also means he’s competing at tracks he has never seen before, and usually there is only a one-hour practice, and then it’s qualifying.

That’s a lot to learn, especially competing against drivers who have been in the series for five or six years. In his last race, at Austria’s Red Bull Ring (known formerly as the Österreichring and A1-Ring) he started 21st and finished seventh, his best result. By the end of the 12-race season — he is a third of the way through it now and sits at eighth in the points — he said, “I think I can definitely get on the podium, and I’d like to have at least one win.”

If there’s a map to being a professional driver, De Phil-lippi began following it at age five, when his grandfather bought him a kart. He ran well immediately and began dominating local competition. His family couldn’t afford to go racing far out of his California neighborhood, he said, but fortunately there was enough tough competition there for him to get noticed as he went on to win four SuperNational titles.

In 2008, he moved from karting to open-wheel racing, winning the Skip Barber West Coast Series championship, and he participated in the Skip Barber National Series Racing Shootout, beating 50 other young drivers. That earned him a season in the Skip Barber National Champ-ionship as part of Mazda’s Driver Development program, a precursor to Mazda’s Road to Indy developmental program.

A year later he won the Skip Barber National Championship, which landed him a ride in the 2010 Star Mazda series, where he won the season finale.

Back with Star Mazda for 2011, he won four races and finished second in the championship to Tristan Vautier, now a full-time Izod IndyCar Series driver.
Like Vautier, De Phillippi hoped to move to the Indy Lights series and use it as a springboard to IndyCar, but good rides were hard to find. Last November he was offered the Porsche Junior ride, mostly funded but contingent on him finding a U.S. sponsor. He did — Roboscan Internet Security — and this year, at least, he’s all set.
Where will it lead? Nobody knows for certain. “But I’m going to give it everything I have.”

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