MX-5: Utah race notes

Daniels Clinches Inaugural MX-5 Cup Drivers' Championship with Win at Miller TOOELE, Utah (Sept. 2, 2006) -- On nearly a perfect day for racing at Miller Motorsports Park, Jim Daniels, of Germantown, Tenn., had a perfect day on the track...

Daniels Clinches Inaugural MX-5 Cup Drivers' Championship with Win at Miller

TOOELE, Utah (Sept. 2, 2006) -- On nearly a perfect day for racing at Miller Motorsports Park, Jim Daniels, of Germantown, Tenn., had a perfect day on the track winning his fourth consecutive SCCA Pro Racing SIRIUS Satellite Radio Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by Hankook race, while clinching the Drivers' Championship in the process. Daniels' Team MER teammates Jason Saini, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Anders Hainer, of Hidden Hills, Calif., finished second and third, respectively.

Heading into turn one at the start of the race, polesitter Daniels and Hainer were side-by-side and by Turn Two Hainer grabbed the early lead in his No. 13 Under Armour/Team MER MX-5. Hainer and Daniels battled for the next six laps around the 24-turn, 4.5 course before Daniels and Saini both passed Hainer on lap six.

With Daniels in the lead, Saini continued to put pressure on him until lap 11, when Saini overtook Daniels in Turn Three. Saini would lead the next two laps before both drivers began an epic battle that would see five lead changes over the last lap and a half of the race. On the last lap, Saini had the lead coming down the front straight and under braking in Turn One Daniels went inside on Saini and took the lead. But, Saini only needed three corners to put his No. 28 Team MER/specmiata.com/Autobarn Mazda MX-5 underneath Daniels for the lead in Turn Four. With Daniels on Saini's bumper through Turn Five, Daniels used Turns Six and Seven to regain the lead for good, winning by 0.226-second.

"The racing was unbelievable," Daniels said to describe the battle with his teammate Saini. "This is why we come to race. If it had been anybody else but Jason, I would have been content riding around in second, trying to force a mistake and fill up their mirrors. And, since we can get on the radios and talk to one another, we let each other know when we were coming to give each other room. It wasn't 'pansy' racing by any means. We were dive bombing pretty good. But, at least we knew where each other were. If I had been racing Todd [Buras], it would have been a different kind of race. I had the luxury of not being in preservation mode."

"This race was just fantastic," Saini said. "I've got to thank Jim and the whole Team MER. They put an awesome car under me. We were struggling with the car all weekend, but for the race we put it all together and the car was fantastic.

"We got a little gap [on the rest of the field] and went side-by-side those last couple of laps. Jim and I race each other a lot and we raced each other clean. We know our limitations and that makes it even more fun when you're racing someone like that. We didn't take any risks. We raced hard. We put it in there if we had the advantage, and with the draft, it is easy to get a tow and get inside someone so it just makes for great racing. This is a great track to race on."

With the win, Daniels clinch the MX-5 Cup Drivers' Championship with 217 points, followed by Todd Buras (146), Saini (130), Deborah Loth (117) and Pratt Cole (114). All five of Daniels' victories have come from the pole position, including six podium finishes in seven races.

After Daniels and Saini passed Hainer on lap six, Hainer lost the draft on his two teammates and fell nearly four seconds behind the leaders, which is where he, Cole and Ara Malkhassian would battle for position until Cole drove the car in too far in Turn Three (on lap nine) and found himself off track covered in Utah desert dirt. Hainer and Malkhassian would do battle for the remainder of the race, with Hainer scoring his second podium finish of the season.

"We had a really good time," Hainer said of Team MER's 1-2-3 finish. "I think it turned out to be more of a team effort than an individual effort. They [his teammates] said they wanted to go, so they went and I let them by and then I kind of messed myself up and lost them at that point. It is hard to catch them once they were gone because of the drafting. So, it was a little disappointing because I thought we could have hung up there and had a good battle between all three of us. But, in the end Ara [Malkhassian] and I had a great race, [it was] very clean. He was driving really well and in the end it was still a good time."

Malkhassian, of Sonoma, Calif., just missed his first podium of the season, equally his season-best fourth place finish. Drew Staveley, of Walnut, Calif., finished fifth.

Malkhassian won the Hawk Hot Lap award setting the race's fastest lap with a 3:20.955 (80.364 mph). Byron Smith, of Salt Lake City, won the Sunoco Hard Charger award for advancing nine positions throughout the race.

Throughout the MX-5 Cup season, Mazda North American Operations and Hankook Tire America Corporation teamed up to select celebrity drivers to participate in a program where the drivers donated all of their winnings to charity. To date, nine celebrity drivers have won more than $3,300 in prize money to be donated to the Lighthouse Family Retreat and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

"We would like to thank Mazda and Hankook for supporting such a great cause," Amy Jo Osborn representative of Chili Pepper Racing and coordinator for the Lighthouse Family Retreat fundraiser said.

-credit: scca pro racing

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Series SCCA-PRO