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C. Potolicchio Learning Quickly, Climbing Standings
Posted by: newsla on Aug 23, 2014 - 06:31 AM
Sports Cars
C. Potolicchio Learning Quickly, Climbing Standings

Christian Potolicchio came to the United States last year from his native Venezuela to race in the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda series.


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He was 17 years old. He knew very little English. He was competing in his first full season of auto racing after starting in karting and then graduating to a limited schedule of F1600 junior open-wheel competition in Venezuela. He knew none of the North American tracks on the schedule.

The only familiar fixture for Potolicchio was his father and 8Star Motorsports team owner, veteran sports car racer Enzo Potolicchio.

Despite those obstacles, Christian Potolicchio ended up sixth in his debut season in Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda, with a best race finish of third at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

But fast-forward a year, and Potolicchio is in a different world in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Development Series. He has become a regular podium visitor in the No. 4 8Star Motorsports this summer and is second in the championship standings entering Rounds 11 and 12 of the season Aug. 23-24 at Virginia International Raceway.

"We started with Prototype Lites," Potolicchio said about his North American racing career. "It's an awesome series. In my first season year of racing, all of those amazing tracks, it was hard for me to learn those tracks. Now this year, we are looking more professional. I know more of the car; the team knows more of the car. Everything was new (last year). And now we're almost fighting for the lead in the championship."

Potolicchio, 19, is the hottest driver in the series entering VIR. He has scored 62 points combined in the last four rounds, more than any other driver, including runaway championship leader Mikhail Goikhberg. Potolicchio, who lives in Hallandale Beach, Florida, has jumped from 10th to second in the championship standings during that span.

Finding a balance between aggression and patience has propelled Potolicchio on his rocket ride up the standings.

"At the beginning of the year, I was really complaining about my driving because I wasn't near the podium, I wasn't really fast," Potolicchio said. "So the next race, I was really aggressive. So I talked to my dad a lot, and he said to just be patient and drive how you can and drive the car as you have, and that's what we're doing now. We're getting points and points and now second in the championship."

Two other factors also have helped Potolicchio emerge as a rising star in the series, with three podium finishes in his last four starts. He finished third in Round 7 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July and second and third in Rounds 9 and 10, respectively, earlier this month at Road America.

First, his command of English has improved dramatically during this season, which helped Potolicchio communicate better with his crew, led by Gary Neal. Second, coaching from 2013 Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda champion Sean Rayhall - a Prototype Challenge driver in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship this season with 8Star - has helped Potolicchio learn the handling characteristics of the Prototype Lites car and the secrets of every circuit more quickly.

"It was difficult for me because my English at the beginning of the year, it wasn't that good," Potolicchio said. "But now I'm better. With the help of Sean Rayhall and the help of Gary, I communicate with them, and I explain myself the best I can. They relate what is happening with the car, and they make some changes. I say to Sean Rayhall what is happening, and he can communicate better what is happening. It was a big help to have Sean Rayhall to put the car together."

Potolicchio's development is on the fast track. It's been a remarkable rise, considering this is just his second season of sports car racing after only limited action in an F1600 open-wheel car and five years of karting in his native Venezuela.

The rapid improvement has caused Potolicchio to revise his goals for this season and 2015.

"I want to be in the top three at the end of the championship (this year) and see if I can win the championship next year," he said. "I want to stay in the championship next year. I like the competition. The car is an amazing car, too.

Potolicchio also thinks the √Član DP02 chassis powered by a Mazda engine used in Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda is providing him with ideal preparation for an eventual jump to a Prototype Challenge car.

"I was talking to my dad, and he drove P2 Ferraris, he drove Indy racing cars, and he told me Prototype Lites were the most enjoyable car to drive," Potolicchio said. "The car has something special we like. I like the downforce. The corners are really fast. We like that.

"But if you go and drive a PC, it's really good (preparation). I did some testing at Daytona in the winter, and it really helped me. I drove the PC well because of Prototype Lites."

Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda

The two classes of competition in the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda series take drivers and teams down unique, exciting roads of prototype sports car racing. Nimble, high-tech, purpose-built Lites 1 machines pack in the power with a 230-horsepower, 2-liter Mazda engine designed to prepare aspiring professionals for prototype competition in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Equally capable and affordable Lites 2 machines offer world-class competition for semi-professional drivers. Both formulas take competition to the next level, producing thrilling, high-speed action at premier venues across North America.

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