Toole, UT (09.04.06): Johnny Kanavas struggles through a rough weekend to finish 11th at Round 7 of the SIRIUS Satellite Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by Hankook held at the Utah Grand Prix. The track was the brand new, beautiful Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. Kanavas was part of the factory Mazda effort (in conjunction with Hale Motorsports/P1-Motorsports), joining teammates Patrick Dempsey, Jim Jordan, Jeremy Barnes and Randy Hale for the event.
Through the test day and practice sessions, Kanavas fought an ill-handling Mazda, which suffered from severe understeer, but still ran times in the top-5. Working with crew chief, Eric Harkrader and Brain Mezger, Johnny eventually dialed the car in for qualifying. However, the struggle was to escalate during the 30 minute session-- Driving the #09 car, Kanavas agreed to work with Drew Staveley in the #2 and Brad McAllister in the #39 car, optimizing the use of the draft at this 4.5 mile circuit. As the first three cars on track, the single blue and two silver cars began to click off fast laps as they ran nose to tail. Johnny's #09 was running third in line, right behind McAllister. Coming into the very quick (nearly 100mph) Turn 5 Hairpin Kanavas quickly realized he was in trouble as his brake pedal went to the floor. "It was a driver's nightmare. Down the straight, coming into turn-5, I went to pump up the brakes just to make sure they were there and they were not! I was right on McAllister's bumper and as we entered the brake zone, I knew I had to make a very quick decision, so I dove to the left and aimed for the dirt, hoping to spin the car to a stop. I was carrying so much speed that the car just kept going. I was watching Drew, hoping he would be gone by the time I re-entered the track. Unfortunately, he wasn't and we both hit hard." , reports Kanavas-- Both cars suffered bad damage and the two cars parked off the track and waited for the session to end to be towed back to the paddock. Although the incident happened on lap 3 of the session, Johnny was still able to lay down the 9th fastest lap in the 24-car field.
Needless to say, things became very busy in the Mazda/Hale Motorsports/P1-Motorsports pits as the team searched for all the necessary parts to get the #09 back together to make the race. With many hours of hard work, the team replaced the entire right rear corner of the suspension, a steering rack and some body work. Crew Chief, Eric Harkrader, traced the brake problem down to a bad batch of brake fluid. After some time on the setup pad, the car, team and driver were ready to race on Saturday. Fortunately, Johnny only had to replace a single tire, therefore keeping his starting position for the 45-minute race.
As the field headed out on the pace lap, Kanavas was scrubbing his tires, preparing them for the start of the race. As the field began to line up side by side to take the green, the steering wheel in the #09 car was turned to the right about 10-degrees. "I knew we were in trouble before we even took the green." Said Kanavas. The race went green and Kanavas tucked behind Payton Wilson and used the draft to his advantage, moving into the 7th spot. As the field began to spread out, Johnny began to fall back as his car's right rear toe setting was now way off, causing the car to crab-walk down the straights, ultimately killing his straight line speed. "If I wasn't in the draft, the car was very slow." , reported Kanavas. "I had no straight-line speed and it just killed the race for us." Running 10th for the majority of the race, the #09 eprodius.com machine was eventually caught by the #55 car of Mitch Wright. Wright passed Kanavas and the two ran nose to tail for the final few laps of the race. Making a last lap attempt to pass the #55, Johnny dove to the inside of Wright, but was not able to make it stick as the #55 car was able to pull away as the track straightened out.. Kanavas brought the car home in 11th place.
"I am very thankful to Mazda, Hale Motorsports, P1-Motorsports, AWR, eprodius.com and Allie Motorsports for this opportunity and, of course, MER and BSI for providing parts to fix our wreck. Miller Motorsports Park is a phenomenal race track that everyone should go and run. Also, huge thanks to Eric Harkrader, Brian Mezger, Justin Cote and Dustin Weinand for all the effort they put into this race. Despite the problems we faced, we were happy to still bring home 11th place... " - Johnny Kanavas