Brad Rampelberg, of San Jose, Calif., topped the second of two morning SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup practice sessions at Road America, part of the Bucyrus 200 presented by Menard’s weekend at the Elkhart Lake, Wis., road course.
Rampelberg posted a best lap of 2:39.606 (91.304 mph) around the 14-turn, 4.048-mile circuit in his No. 4 AMG/Mazda/Cobalt Brakes Mazda MX-5. The series had two 30-minute sessions spaced an hour apart this morning in preparation for Sunday’s race.
The AMG Racing driver was in the car for the first time since he was knocked off track and out of the lead in the Round Three race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca four weeks ago.
“Our guys tested at New Jersey last week and found some things on the car,” Rampelberg said. “I’ve been rehabbing my broken collar bone, so I haven’t been in the car since Mazda Raceway. The car’s good. This is all about drafting, and I’ve got to think Michael Cooper and Mark Carpenter for their help. I was a second and a half faster when I was behind them.”
Next on the time sheets during the second session, which was quicker than the first session as the track dried from overnight rains, was championship-leader Justin Piscitell, of Weston, Conn., in the No. 89 Team MER/DAMG Worldwide Mazda MX-5 Cup with a best time of 2:40.331 (90.892 mph).
A pair of ALARA Racing teammates followed, with Lyonel Kent, of Knoxville, Tenn., and Ara Malkhassian, of Houston, Texas, using the draft to finish third and fourth. Kent turned a best lap of 2:40.606 (90.736 mph) in the No. 13 ALARA Racing/Bulldog Productions MX-5, with Malkhassian’s No. 11 Bulldog Productions machine just behind at 2:41.043 (90.490 mph).
Cooper, teamed with Rampelberg, was fifth in the No. 84 AMG Racing/Bromante Landscaping & Design MX-5 after a best time of 2:41.148 (90.431 mph).
Mat Pombo, of Atlanta, Ga., was quickest in the first of two morning sessions in the No. 01 PFM Pombo Racing/Range of Motion ATL/Carbotech Mazda MX-5. Pombo tiptoed through the still-wet sections of the track following an overnight rain shower and posted a best lap of 2:41.242 (90.378 mph).
“It was a little wet through the back of the track in that session, so I think everyone was just trying to take it easy,” Pombo said. “We were just trying to feel the car out in the places that were dry. The guys at PFM Pombo Racing have been working hard, and with the two sessions this morning so close together we wanted to work on a couple of things for qualifying tomorrow and the race. Everyone went quicker in the second session as it dries, and I think it’s going to be a really fun weekend.”
Pombo’s younger brother, Mark, was second quickest in the session in the No. 63 PFM Pombo Racing/Range of Motion ATL/Carbotech MX-5. The two were linked together around the long circuit, with the younger Pombo posting a time of 2:41.818 (90.056 mph).
The Pombo brothers are teamed for the first time in Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup session, and with drafting playing an important role at Road America, the younger brother is admittedly here to support his championship-contending sibling.
“Road America is a horsepower and a drafting track, and in a spec series there’s only so much you can do about the horsepower,” Mat Pombo explained. “You have to work on the draft part of things, and the bigger teams have three-car trains that they can draft in and open a pocket of air for the cars in the back. We’re still at a disadvantage, but I’m hoping with my brother Mark in another car it will help us out. Having him here is a good thing, he just has to be smart. He hasn’t driven this car very much, so we’re trying to get him where he needs to be. I think by race time, we’ll be in good shape.”
Rampelberg also spoke about drafting and using teammates for help.
“There’s three long straightaways here, and you can grab sixth gear on two of those,” Rampelberg said. “There’s no other place we go that you can do that, except for maybe VIR. So you have to have two cars, and they have to be good, and they have to be fast, and they have to be consistent. It’s so important to have good teammates.”
Malkhassian, Piscitell, and Rampelberg filled out the top-five in the first session, though none were as quick as the later session.
The SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup returns to practice on Friday afternoon at 2:50 p.m. (CDT) in preparation for Sunday’s race. To follow each session’s notes and timing, please visit www.mx-5cup.com.
Follow the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup on Twitter @ MazdaMX5Cup.