ELKHART LAKE, Wis. –
Despite an unscheduled pit stop that moved him as low as 11th place under caution, Brad Rampelberg, of San Jose, Calif., charged through the field to take the checkered flag during the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup race at Road America, part of the Bucyrus 200 presented by Menard’s weekend. Ara Malkhassian, of Houston, Texas, and Nick Evans, of Powell, Ohio, finished second and third, respectively.
Rampelberg started the race from the pole in the No. 4 AMG/Mazda/Cobalt Brakes Mazda MX-5 and ended with a 1.457-second margin of victory at the end of the 15-lap, 60.72-mile race, but ran an eventful race between the flags.
After leading the field through first turn at the green flag, Rampelberg fell back to fourth for the first two laps. Contact with Nick Evans’ No. 28 Team MER/Mazda/Sparco MX-5 left Rampelberg sitting in the middle of the track, but when the yellow flags flew as he spun at the end of lap two when Tim Probert hit the wall in turn 11, Rampelberg was able to come down pit lane for his AMG crew to check for damage.
“Nick was a little bit faster than me in the kink and got a run on me going into Canada Corner,” Rampelberg said. “I thought I left him some room, but I don’t know if I did or not. He got up into me and spun me around. I knew the yellow flag was coming and I wanted to get in and check it out. We did, and the car was fine.”
With the car ok, Rampelberg rejoined the field in 11th place. After the No. 84 AMG Racing/Bromante Landscaping & Design Mazda MX-5 of Michael Cooper and the No. 77 ALARA Racing/Coolgas.com Mazda MX-5 of Jesse Combs made stops, Rampelberg restarted in ninth.
Two laps later, he was in third and had joined the lead pack. Rampelberg and Evans, again running together on the track, ran in a three car breakaway with Lyonel Kent’s No. 13 ALARA Racing/Bulldog Productions machine. With Evans on the point at the start of lap nine, the lead pair shook Kent and ran on their own until lap 13.
With help from the draft down the long Road America straightaways, the pair was joined by the hard-charging Cooper, Justin Piscitell in the No. 89 Team MER/DAMG Worldwide MX-5, and Malkhassian in the No. 11 ALARA Racing/Bulldog Productions car.
Rampelberg took over the point from Evans on lap 11, and the five remained in line until the white flag flew to start the final lap. At that point, Cooper pushed his teammate Rampelberg to a two car-length advantage exiting turn five. When Kent and Jeff Mosing collided in turn four to bring out the second of two full-course caution periods (for a total of two laps) on the final lap, Rampelberg had the lead and the race win.
“The AMG Mazda Cobalt car was awesome today,” Rampelberg said. “They really gave me a good race car. We knew that nobody could get away, and we wanted to make sure our car could handle. We went out in the morning session that most people didn’t, and worked on some set-up. It’s all about drafting here – Michael Cooper came up at the exact right moment and really helped me out. He split the MER drivers [Evans and Piscitell] and really pushed me to the end. This one is half mine, and half Cooper’s.
“I got an amazing restart. Mark Woodworth, my crew chief, called it perfect and I popped it at the exact right time,” Rampelberg said. “I think I went from 11th to fourth, and it was ironic that I slotted in right behind Nick. I felt a little bit of justification there, and from that point Nick and I worked together. It was fun, as an old Mazda shootout winner, to work with this year’s winner. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get away like I wanted to but it worked out at the end.”
The win moves Rampelberg back into the MX-5 Cup Championship lead with 209 points, in a dead heat with Piscitell and ten markers ahead of Cooper. Evans sits just 15 points back in fourth.
Malkhassian took advantage of the shuffle occurring in the lead pack to move from fifth at the white flag to second. It was the second-consecutive runner-up finish for Malkhassian, who celebrated Father’s Day with his children in Victory Circle.
“I started third and was anywhere from second to sixth throughout the race,” Malkhassian said. “My car was fast, but I just couldn’t hang on to the draft at the back of the track. I kept getting passed on the back section, and then making my passes in the front. I couldn’t keep the pedal down in the high speed corners, so it made it tough. But we were great all weekend, and I’m really happy for our ALARA team today.”
The rookie Evans, who officially led four laps for the first time in his short MX-5 Cup career, earned his first career podium.
“Towards the middle of the race, Brad and I were trying to run away,” Evans said. “I kept looking for my teammate, Justin Piscitell, because I figured we could work together really well. I knew Brad was looking for his teammate as well and they finally caught us.
“Basically Brad got away while we were fighting for second, and we were trying to catch him and then the yellow came out and there was nothing we could do. We might have had a shot at him, but I guess we’ll never know.”
Piscitell’s fourth-place finish was his third such finish in four races, while Cooper’s efforts to help his teammate push to the win relegated him to fifth at the checkered flag.
Mark Carpenter (No. 14 AMG Racing/GGS Technical Publications MX-5) and Combs finished sixth and seventh, respectively.
Kristine Craine, driving the No. 39 Pinktop Racing MX-5 earned her best career finish, taking the checkered flag in eighth place.
Despite a last-lap crash that saw both cars suffer heavy damage just one week from the next round at New Jersey Motorsports Park, Kent and Mosing finished ninth and 10th, respectively. Each walked away from the incident under their own power.
The SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup returns to action in just one week at New Jersey Motorsports Park for the Formula X weekend featuring each series in the Mazda ladder. 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.