MONTEREY, Calif. – The SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup returns to action this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the only facility to host a round of the championship every season since its inception in 2006.
It’s a “home” event for Mazda, and three drivers who are part of the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development Ladder would enjoy nothing more than a win to represent the manufacturer.
One of those drivers, championship points leader Brad Rampelberg, has additional motivation in the No. 4 AMG Racing/Mazda/Cobalt Brakes Mazda MX-5. The San Jose, Calif.-racer is running at his home track, in front of family and friends, and with a scant 16 point lead after two of 11 rounds. Rampelberg won the Mazda shootout to earn a paid MX-5 Cup ride in 2008, and is back full-time in 2010 to battle for the title.
Last year”s shootout recipient, Justin Piscitell, sits second in the championship after a pair of fourth place finishes to open the season. The 20-year-old, driving the No. 89 Team MER DAMG Worldwide Mazda MX-5, finished as the championship runner-up a year ago in his season as the shootout winner.
This year’s prize winner, Nick Evans, is driving the No. 28 Team MER/Mazda/Sparco MX-5 as a teammate to Piscitell. The young open-wheel driver is behind the wheel of a sports car for a season for the first time and is adapting nicely, finishing fifth and seventh in the first two rounds.
Also working out of the MER stable is Jeff Mosing, driving the No. 30 Team MER/RaceNowForAutism/Frank’s International MX-5, who sits eight in the championship after two rounds.
In addition to Rampelberg’s championship lead, Michael Cooper finished third and fifth in the first two rounds behind the wheel of the No. 84 AMG Racing/Bromante Landscaping&Design Mazda MX-5. The MX-5 Cup rookie is currently third in the points, just one in arrears of Piscitell and 17 points behind Rampelberg.
Mark Carpenter and Mike Vitarelli return in the AMG stable as well. Carpenter ran the fastest race lap at Road Atlanta in the No. 14 AMG Racing/GGS Technical Publication Mazda MX-5. Vitarelli will drive the No. 68 AMG/HighRiseFire.com Mazda MX-5 again at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
In Atlanta, Mat Pombo defended his home turf in the No. 01 PFM Pombo Racing/Range of MotionATL/Carbotech MX-5 by qualifying on the pole, and then leading his share of the race. In attempting a last-lap pass for the win, he fell to third, but remains tied for third in the championship and now has the confidence to race with the top drivers in the series.
Pombo will be joined again in Monterey by Jimmy Burke in the No. 23 Pombo Racing/PFM Engineering/Carbotech machine.
ALARA Racing enters Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca coming off of a win at Road Atlanta. After a race-long battle with Pombo, Lyonel Kent drove the No. 13 ALARA Racing/Bulldog Productions machine to victory lane. Ara Malkhassian, in the No. 11 ALARA Racing/Bulldog Productions MX-5, had mechanical problems that slowed him to a sixth place finish.
They’ll be joined again by Jesse Combs in the No. 77 coolgas.com Mazda MX-5 to help push the ALARA Racing train back to the front in Monterey.
This weekend also marks the return to racing for an open-wheel legend, as Indianapolis 500 winner Danny Sullivan climbs behind the wheel of an MX-5 Cup car, both for a chance to race and for a good cause.
Sullivan and his wife Brenda are active with the SPCA for Monterey County. The SPCA is located directly across the street from the main entrance to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
This will be the fourth year that Mazda has teamed with the SPCA at major race weekends to promote shelter animal adoptions. Since the 2007 season, a variety of Mazda racers have carried the humane message but this will be the first time a car will be branded with large SPCA lettering.
Members of the public are invited to join “Danny’s Pet Crew” on Sunday, May 23rd. In honor of the 105th anniversary of the SPCA for Monterey County, Danny will race car number 105. The first 105 people to donate $105 or more will receive a race-day ticket, a team T-shirt, and an opportunity to meet Danny. For the five people donating the most money, they will watch the race from the Mazda VIP suite above pitlane.
The beauty of running a spec-series is that driver talent really has a chance to shine through. In MX-5 Cup, however, the additional alluring aspect is the car; the nimble, dependable and undeniably fun Mazda MX-5.
Mechanically, all MX-5 Cup cars will remain essentially stock, as delivered from the dealer, with only bolt-on modifications to the intake and exhaust systems. While the stock MX-5 Miata produces 170 hp, an MX-5 Cup car will produce in excess of 200 hp. All MX-5 Cup vehicles will be equipped with a six-speed manual transmission and may be run with the optionally available limited-slip rear differential.
Suspension will incorporate a fully-adjustable coil-over kit with double-adjustable shock absorbers and specified spring rates, as well as adjustable anti-roll bars front and rear. All cars will run a 17×8” wheel of a specified weight – again, to level the field and minimize costs, as well as the spec BFGoodrich g-Force R1 Tire. Additionally, brake pads, fluid and lines will be upgraded to racing components.
All MX-5 Cup cars will run with full safety equipment, including an eight-point roll-cage welded into the car, a racing seat, racing seatbelts and will incorporate a fire-extinguishing system.
As always, all components for the cars will be sold directly through MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development, which also supports the program monetarily with contingency awards to successful drivers.
Event/Circuit: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
11-turn, 2.238-mile road course
Qualifying: Saturday, May 22, at 8:00 a.m. (PDT)
Green Flag: Sunday, May 23, at 3:15 p.m. (PDT)
Race Length: 45-minute timed race.
Television: Will be aired on cable syndication. Check www.mx-5cup.com or www.mazdaracing.tv for a complete broadcast schedule.
Qualifying Lap: 1:41.184 (79.625 mph), Eric Foss, 2008
Race Lap: 1:41.731 (79.625 mph), Christian Franck, 2008
Average Speed: 77.751 mph, Jason Saini, 2007
Margin of Victory: 0.107-second, Chip Herr over Todd Buras, 2006
2009: Todd Lamb
2008: Christian Franck
2007: Jason Saini
2006: Chip Herr