Malkhassian Takes First Playboy MX-5 Cup Win of Season After Crossing Finish Line Sideways
Jun. 23, 2012 - ELKHART LAKE, Wis. - SCCA Pro Racing Playboy MX-5 Cup races are 45 minutes in length, but only the last several feet mattered on Saturday morning at Road America. Sprinting up the hill to the finish, Ara Malkhassian, of Houston, Texas, and Dean Copeland, of Bowie, Md., made contact, sent both spinning sideways and into the wall, with Malkhassian spinning across the finish line just 0.069-second ahead of Copeland for the win.
|Ara Malkhassian won one for the ages at Road America (Les Tension Photography)
Malkhassian led only a few feet, at the most, in the No. 11 ALARA Racing/ALARA Garage MX-5 and left with both a banged-up race car and the win. The pair crossed after a 16-lap, 64-mile race that featured a lead pack of between nine and 11 cars drafting the entire 4-mile circuit, averaging 83.263 mph for the race.
Copeland’s No. 7 Sync Speed Inc/Copeland Motorsports MX-5 led across the finish line with one lap to go, but Malkhassian and the No. 34 Projections Research/Sick Sideways MX-5 of Christian Szymczak drafted past to take the lead in Turn 1. Copeland reclaimed the lead with a draft and outbraking maneuver into Turn 5.
Copeland came out of the final corner and up the long straightaway to the finish with Malkhassian on his tail and Stevan McAleer’s No. 28 CJ Wilson Children’s Charities/Numerix/Blue Mercury Capital MX-5 shortly behind.
Malkhassian used the draft in an attempt to draft to the win when contact occurred, sending Malkhassian off the wall on the left and across the track to the right wall, and Copeland straight to the right side wall separating the track from pit lane. Naturally, the two drivers saw the incident differently.
“I got the strong run over him on the last straight, he was fairly weak in Turn 14 all weekend,” Malkhassian said. “I drove up the right, and then he came to the right to block me on the right and I moved to the left. He made a highly illegal move, moving back to the left, and not only that but I was already up along side of him. He started pushing me into the dirt and pushed me all the way out into the dirt under the checker.
“I cleared him at that point, so you can imagine we were going pretty quick and there was just no way to hang onto the car in the dirt. I was trying to keep some of the car on the track and he kept pushing me off the track and we had, unfortunately, a huge, huge wreck.”
Copeland knew that Malkhassian was coming, but the defending Road America race winner wasn’t going to give it away after officially leading all but the first lap of the race.
“It came off, Ara had a good run and he went track left,” an unhappy Copeland said after the race. “I’m not going to let him just squeeze by, so I ran him real, real tight. He still had room, and he just turned me. He just flat caught me in the left rear. I didn’t see any need for it, and now I’m done. I don’t have a race car.”
After reviewing the incident following the race, officials agreed with Malkhassian. Copeland was penalized 10 points for blocking and 20 for avoidable contact and placed on a two-race probation, but keeps the runner-up finish.
The win is first of 2012 and the third career victory for Malkhassian, the series’ career leader in starts. The veteran racer used that knowledge to bide his time throughout the race.
“It was your typical Road America race where we had a pack breakaway, and no one was able to lead the pack and get away from everybody,” Malkhassian said. “We knew it was going to come down to the end. My plan was always not to dice early and kind of wait for things to settle in, then make moves past the halfway point of the race. And everything was going to plan, just like I wanted to. I wanted to be in second place on the last lap and take the win, and that’s how it played out.”
McAleer crossed the finish line just behind the melee to finish third and hold on to the Championship lead. Like Malkhassian, McAleer had plans to run a patient race and carried that out nearly flawlessly.
“I wanted to have a little bit of a fight initially, because I wanted to see if I could get a point for leading one of the laps,” McAleer said. “And then I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too concerned with staying up front because I didn’t really want to be in there when they’re all diving on the brakes. I kind of sat between third and fifth the whole time, and then unfortunately I kind of fell back to where I wasn’t getting a draft because they were all drafting each other in front. They came on the radio and said there was 10 minutes left, so I said, ok, if I’m not going to make a move now I’m not going to make one. I managed to get by a few cars.
“On the last lap there I managed to get up to third, and there was a little bit of contact in Turn Five that pretty much guaranteed me third place. Obviously I know where my championship rivals are right now and I wasn’t too concerned about [getting to] first or second. I was thinking they might even take each other out. They did, but just not at the right point at the track. I’m super happy with third place.”
The race was slowed once for a full course caution on lap six when Nathan Sparks ran off track in the kink and scraped the outside wall in the No. 3 OOTSK Performance machine as part of the lead pack. That incident also eliminated Sam Barnett’s No. 29 ModSpace Motorsports/CJ Wilson Racing MX-5, who scraped the inside wall trying to avoid the incident.
The field restarted on lap 10 and set-up the showdown to the finish with the lead group.
When the dust settled, Szymczak finished fourth, followed by Jeff Mosing’s No. 12 Frank’s International/Race Now For Autism MX-5. Mosing turned the fastest lap of the race in 2:39.299 (91.480 mph).
Elliott Skeer (No. 17 MAZDASPEED/Sparco MX-5), Dan Bender (No. 18 Bravo Racing/Bravo Trailers MX-5), John Dean (No. 16 Projections Research/Sick Sideways MX-5), and Tim Probert (No. 26 ALARA Racing MX-5) all ran in the lead draft, finishing sixth through ninth.
Brent Mosing crossed the finish line for a career-best 10th in the No. 10 Frank’s International/ALARA Racing MX-5, giving ALARA Racing four cars in the top 10 at the finish.
Bryan Hixon’s No. 63 Ducati San Antonio/Tequila Me MX-5 won the Skip Barber Racing School MAZDASPEED Pro Series class running concurrently with the Playboy MX-5 Cup, followed by Zachry Lee’s No. 62 Skip Barber Racing machine.
After six of 11 races, McAleer holds the Championship lead with 330 points, though Malkhassian closed the gap to 19 points with his win. Szymczak is third with 307, followed by Dean (293) and Sparks (264).
Round Six of the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup from Road America will air on Velocity Saturday, July 21 at Noon (EDT).
The Series returns to the track at Canadian Tire Mosport Park, June 20-22, for Round Seven.
More information on the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy MX-5 Cup is available at www.mx-5cup.com.
Follow the MX-5 Cup on Twitter @MazdaMX5Cup.