From June 14-16, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course entertained fans of horsepower and speed with a wide-variety of both on and off-track events. The weekend consisted on racing from the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup, and the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge. Basically, if you are a true race fan, the Diamond Cellar Classic was your own personal slice of heaven!
Saturday’s on-track events began with a victory in the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup by Christian Szymczak, a native of Palos Verdes, Calif., who led Round Five flag-to-flag. Elliott Skeer, of Vista, Calif., finished second ahead of Dean Copeland, of Bowie, Md.
Szymczak set sail in the No. 34 ALARA Racing MX-5 from the moment the lights went off, driving to an eventual 6.741-second victory over Skeer. The caution-free 26-lap race averaged 81.562 mph around the 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course. Szymczak lowered the record for the fastest race lap to 1:39.223 (81.924 mph) on his way to the win, breaking the old record of 1:39.268 (81.887 mph) set last year by Stevan McAleer during his championship run.
“Everything went perfectly,” Szymczak said. “We got a perfect start and I was able to pull a bit of a gap in lap one. That was beneficial because I was able to decrease the effectiveness of the draft behind me. From there I just ran clean, consistent laps as well as I could. In the end it all worked out.”
Skeer, in the No. 17 Pelican Replacement Windows/ZoomZoomNation.com/Alpinestars MX-5, got a good jump from his front row starting spot but was under duress for most of the race. He stayed just ahead of Copeland, who spent most of the race trying to take second place.
“Off the start I fell back a little bit,” Skeer said. “We ran with Dean [Copeland] and we were really running well. We had a couple good battles, but just couldn’t catch Christian [Szymczak]. We had a great last-lap battle [with Copeland], and brought it home second.”
Copeland, driving the No. 7 Sync Speed Inc. MX-5, did not give Skeer much room to breathe throughout the entire race. The battle resulted in Copeland attempting a last-lap pass to get around Skeer. Copeland was able to pull side-by-side with Skeer, but was unable to complete the move. Copeland was happy with the result, as he scored his first podium of the season.
“We were trying to stay nose-to-tail for the whole race, even until the last half-lap,” Copeland said. “I decided to pull the trigger on Elliott, had cleared him on the outside of the track coming off the back stretch. We ran side-by-side all the way through the ‘Esses’ and got into the marbles headed down through ‘Thunder Valley.’ The back end washed out a little, and we dropped a wheel off track.
“It was all good considering we only made five laps of practice all weekend. We had some water in our fuel and spent all day yesterday draining and cleaning it out. It’s been a tough weekend, but not a bad result. I’ll take third.”
Patrick Gallagher, of nearby Thornville, Ohio, notched a fourth-place finish, his second-best of the year and third consecutive top-five in the No. 28 MAZDASPEED/Howard Concrete Pumping/CTL Engineering MX-5.
The No. 16 Projections Research/Sick Sideways MX-5, with John Dean working hard behind the wheel, passed seven cars to finish fifth after starting the race in the 12th position.
Kenton Koch, of Glendora, Calif., took the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge win, setting a new class race lap record of 1:42.446 (80.911 mph) in the No. 63 Skip Barber Racing School SBMX-5.
“I was able to pull a gap at the beginning,” Koch said. “I just continued on and was able to open that gap as the race went on.”
Drake Kemper, of Toluca Lake, Calif., finished second in the No. 99 Royal Rugby SBMX-5, followed by Robby Foley, of Randolph, N.J., in the No. 93 SBMX-5.
On Sunday morning, the skies opened up, and Saturday’s second-place finisher Elliott Skeer, did what it took to win Round Six of the SCCA Pro Racing Mazda Playboy MX-5 Cup. Saturday’s winner Christian Szymczak, of Palos Altos, Calif., and George Jackson, of Houston, finish second and third, respectively.
Skeer, driving the No. 17 Pelican Replacement Windows/ZoomZoomNation.com/Alpinestars MX-5, started on the outside of row one, taking the fight to polesitter Szymczak in Turn One. As the field came around for lap two, Jeff Mosing, in the No. 9 ALARA Racing machine, had jumped to the lead. One lap later, Dean Copeland (No. 7 Sync Speed Inc. MX-5) got around Szymczak for third and closed to Skeer for second.
On lap three, Copeland leap-frogged Skeer and Mosing to take the top spot. As the light rain that was present at the beginning of the race became heavier, Skeer got back around Copeland for the lead in Turn Two of lap six. During lap seven, many of the drivers elected for a set of BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDWS treaded tires, diving down pit road to make the change as the skies opened up. Meanwhile, the two lead cars, Skeer followed by Szymczak, stayed out to keep their track position. Skeer brought his car down pit lane, leaving Szymczak to inherit the lead in the deteriorating conditions on lap eight.
The sole caution period of the weekend came out on lap nine, lasting two laps, slowing the average speed of the 21-lap race to 59.035 mph around the 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course. The yellow allowed the remainder of the field to change tires, including the race leader, Szymczak.
Following the lap 11 restart, Skeer, who restarted third, made up two positions in one lap as he moved toward the front of the field. On lap 15, Skeer reclaimed the lead from Daniel Bender (No. 18 Bravo Trailers MX-5), and never looked back, running consistent laps in the treacherous conditions to take the win.
“Earlier in the day, Patrick [Gallagher] and I were in the golf cart thinking it might rain,” Skeer said. “We talked to a couple locals and they said dry tires were the way to go. We went out there and it was nice and dry, then seven laps in, it starts pouring. We knew we had to pit soon, but we weren’t sure if a yellow was coming out. As soon as we pitted, the yellow comes out, but I had confidence in our team. I knew our team was going to have an awesome pit stop, and they didn’t disappoint.”
Szymczak, in the No. 34 ALARA Racing MX-5, secured a hard-fought second place finish. In the sixth position on the lap 11-restart, just under a minute behind the leaders at the time, Szymczak passed numerous cars in the mixed-class field to get to second. Szymczak ran out of time before getting the chance to battle with Skeer for the lead finishing 17.679 seconds behind.
“We started off making the gamble by putting on drys,” Szymczak said. “The rain took us all by surprise. In the changing conditions, and the overall uncertainty, it was really had to figure out where to put the car. It was a real crap shoot out there for the first couple laps.
“Once it started to rain hard, it was obvious to put on wets, so that cleared it up a bit, making it easier to figure out what needed to be done. As the line developed we were able to settle in, click off laps, and finish strong today.”
Jackson, a rookie, finished his first Mazda MX-5 Cup race on the third step of the podium in very trying conditions. Jackson was the beneficiary of the mid-race caution period, putting him near the front of the field. Following the restart, Jackson passed Bender on lap 15, then John Dean (No. 16 Projections Research/Sick Sideways MX-5) on lap 19 to take third.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” Jackson said. “Yesterday we had a little issue with the brakes, but today we developed some consistency and managed to stay on track. In this race, that’s what it took to get on the podium. Overall, I had a blast out there. It was wet and wild, and I’m glad we all got through it.”
Dean, of Sebring, Fla., ended up bringing his machine home fourth in the wet conditions, scoring his 14th career top-five, and sixth top-five of 2013 in as many races.
Sebastian Landy, of Great Falls, Va., scored his third career top-five, and first of 2013, in the No. 49 Excitations.com MX-5.
Kenton Koch, of Glendora, Calif., made series history with his sixth win of the season, as he became the first Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge driver to score an overall win in Mazda MX-5 Cup competition. Koch (No. 63 Skip Barber Racing School SBMX-5), as with the other Skip Barber drivers, was able to stay out on track throughout the entire race, as he started on rain tires.
“About halfway through the race, when it really started coming down we were able to pick off a lot of guys,” Koch said. “That was able to help us out a lot, just being on rain tires.
“It’s very special for me to be on the podium, the very tip-top of the podium, not just first in my class. It’s pretty cool just to do that, definitely something to put on the résumé. It’s a really eye-opening experience for me.”
Lucas Bize, of New York, N.Y., finished second overall, and in class, in the No. 60 SBMX-5. Russell Muck, of Grosse Pointe, Mich., completed the podium, finishing third in the No. 95 SBMX-5.
Skeer leaves Mid-Ohio with the championship lead, amassing 347 points. Szymczak is second, only 4 markers behind, followed by Dean with 314.
Koch sits at the top of the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge championship with 387 points. Bize, with 318, and Drake Kemper, with 309, are second and third.
The next race for the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup is slated for July 19-21 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ont.
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