ELKHART LAKE, Wis. –
Mat Pombo, of Atlanta, Ga., used the draft from his teammate and younger brother to post the fastest qualifying time on Saturday at Road America to set the grid for Sunday afternoon’s race, part of the Bucyrus 200 presented by Menard’s weekend.
Pombo turned a best time of 2:39.545 (91.340 mph) on his second of eight laps during the 30-minute session after pinning his No. 01 PFM Pombo Racing/Range of Motion ATL/Carbotech Mazda MX-5 on the tail of brother Mark Pombo, using the two-car draft around the long straightaways of the 14-turn, 4.048 circuit.
The strategy worked, as when the checkered flag ended the session Mat was on the pole and Mark, in the No. 63 PFM Pombo Racing/Range of Motion ATL/Carbotech MX-5 was sixth after a lap of 2:40.028 (91.064 mph).
The pole position is the third of the season for the elder Pombo, who captured the Round Three win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
“I’ve got to thank my brother Mark, who gave me a great tow on that lap,” Pombo said. “It was our plan going into this, and because we’re just a two-car team, we didn’t have to worry about finding time to get three cars a good lap. I think we could have went faster with three cars, but the Pombo Racing crew has been really tuning on the car to get it to handle because getting off these turns to make sure you can maintain the draft is critical. The car is handling great.
“With this car here at the Nationwide Series race, it’s pretty cool to be here with such a huge crowd and a really big show.”
Despite his fast lap, Pombo anticipates Sunday’s race, Round Four of 11 for the season, won’t be decided until the last few corners.
“The game plan is to be smart,” Pombo said of the race strategy. “You really can’t plan with the draft like this, you have to take the situations as they come. You aren’t going to win it at the beginning, in the first turn. It’s going to be a long race of changing positions, and you have to have a little luck and put yourself in a position to win here at the end.”
Sharing the front row with Pombo for the start of the race is Brad Rampelberg, of San Jose, Calif., who turned a lap of 2:39.826 (91.179 mph), just 0.281-second off the pole.
Rampelberg is driving with an injured collarbone suffered at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, when contact between he and Pombo forced Rampelberg off the track and out of the lead on the final lap.
Despite the injury, Rampelberg was disappointed to miss out on the extra point awarded for pole position, but optimistic about tomorrow’s race.
“The AMG Mazda was great today,” Rampelberg said. “I have to think my teammates, [Mark] Carpenter and [Michael] Cooper took me around again today, just like yesterday, and I just couldn’t get it done. This is a big drafting track, though, and nobody’s going nowhere. It’s going to be a race. This Road America track is awesome. There are fans everywhere, and this is just a great part of the country. I’m happy to be here.
“The front row’s good enough. I wanted the pole and the points are nice, but at the end of the day, I’m not running for points, I’m running to win races. If we’ve got the car to win, that’s what I want. It’s a good start, but we’ve got to race it.”
ALARA Racing teammates Lyonel Kent, of Knoxville, Tenn., and Ara Malkhassian, of Houston, Texas, worked together to qualify third and fourth for the race. Kent turned a best time of 2:39.914 (91.129 mph) in the No. 13 ALARA Racing/Bulldog Productions MX-5, while Malkhassian’s No. 11 Bulldog Productions machine posted a lap of 2:39.986 (91.088 mph).
“I learned from Mazda Raceway, it’s better to be an odd number than an even number and be on the inside,” Kent said. “I’ve really got to thank my teammates, Ara, Jesse [Combs] and Tim [Probert], for giving me a good draft. We’ve been working on our drafting strategy and it looks like it paid off.
Kent’s lap came on his ninth of 11 laps in the session.
“The key was the BFGoodrich tires,” Kent explained. “You can get a hot lap later in the session, and don’t have to turn a lap early in the session. These tires stay on for the full session.”
Nick Evans, of Powell, Ohio, was the fastest qualifier of the Team MER machines. Evans, driving the No. 28 Team MER/Mazda/Sparco Mazda MX-5, turned a best time of 2:39.989 (91.086 mph) to start in row three, just 0.003-second from Malkhassian in fourth and 0.444-second from the pole time.
In all, less than one second separates the top 11 contenders on the grid.
The SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup races on Sunday afternoon at Road America at 2:30 p.m. (CDT). To follow each session’s notes and timing, please visitwww.mx-5cup.com.
Follow the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup on Twitter @ MazdaMX5Cup.