MX-5: Series Utah race notes

Rampelberg Recovers for MX-5 Cup Win at Miller Motorsports Park TOOELE, Utah (Sept. 20, 2008) -- After a poor start dropped him to seventh place, Brad Rampelberg, of San Jose, Calif., made an impressive comeback, to win his second SCCA Pro...

Rampelberg Recovers for MX-5 Cup Win at Miller Motorsports Park

TOOELE, Utah (Sept. 20, 2008) -- After a poor start dropped him to seventh place, Brad Rampelberg, of San Jose, Calif., made an impressive comeback, to win his second SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup race of the season at Miller Motorsports Park. Robert Huffmaster, of Clarkston, Mich., and Ara Malkhassian, of Sonoma, Calif., completed the podium for the Round Six race, part of the SunRickGourmet.com 1000, presented by The Grand and Little America Hotels.

As the MX-5 Cup field flashed under the green flag, polesitter Rampelberg was under attack on all sides. As his No. 14 Hooverspeed/Mazda Patron Tequila MX-5 dropped back as far as seventh in the highly competitive field, second-place starter Huffmaster blasted into the lead.

"I have no idea what happened," Rampelberg said. "In my mind I had the concept of what we were going to do: we were going to roll up there in third gear, they were going to throw the green flag and we'd be fine. I don't know what happened. I didn't miss a shift, I didn't do anything."

Huffmaster and teammate Ryan Schimsk quickly pulled away from the field on the opening lap, but a full-course caution to remove the No. 39 Wired Motorsports/ACE Surgical MX-5 of Brad McAllister from Turn Five wiped out the duo's advantage. It was a fortuitous yellow flag for Rampelberg though, who had already climbed to fourth before the yellow came out and now had a chance once again challenge for the win.

On the lap-three restart, Malkhassian immediately made his way around Schimsk and set his sights on the leader, leaving Schimsk to hold off a charging Rampelberg. While initially Schimsk and Rampelberg worked together to keep pace with the leaders, it wasn't long before someone made a move for position.

"[Huffmaster and Malkhassian] got out early and Ryan and I were working together and caught back up," recalled Rampelberg. "In Five, I gave [Schimsk] the signal that I wanted to lead, so I went underneath him in Turn Five, but he decided that wasn't what he wanted to do and he actually tried to pick up two spots in that turn. Rob got the worst of that."

Contact between Schimsk and Huffmaster made it a two-car race for the win between Rampelberg and then leader Malkhassian.

"From there I put my head down and I thought Ara and I worked really well together," Rampelberg said. "The temperatures on my car were coming up, so I wanted to lead a little bit. Ara raced me hard and fair. When I got into the lead I just put my foot down and the car felt really good."

Malkhassian kept pace with Rampelberg for several laps around the 24-turn, 4.486-mile course, but as Rampelberg pulled out of drafting range, Malkhassian became ensnarled in another battle for the remaining podium spots. Rampelberg cruised to the checkered flag and his second win of the season by 4.320 seconds. It was a much needed boost for Rampelberg and the Hooverspeed team after a crash in the previous round at Trois-Rivières.

"After Trois-Rivières the car was pretty torn up. Jason [Hoover] and the Hooverspeed guys did a great job putting the car back together. It rolled off the truck this weekend perfect. We came away with another win, so we're pretty lucky."

The win moved Rampelberg to second in the MX-5 Cup Championship, 42 points behind Eric Foss and six ahead of teammate Todd Buras, whose race at Miller Motorsports Park was thwarted by a flat tire.

Finishing second, Huffmaster's start was everything Rampelberg's wasn't, enabling him to lead the first five laps of the 12-lap, 53.832-mile race.

"The start went really good," Huffmaster said. "Right when I shifted to third and got on the throttle the green came out. That gave me a little bit of a jump on Brad and then I had my teammate behind me helping me out though Turn One. After that I was just hoping I could run some clean laps and lead a few laps, but then the double yellow came out. I led a few laps after that, but Ara was right there and got around me in Turn One. I was thinking I was going to settle back in and just stay in the draft. Unfortunately, there was a bit of contact in Turn Six between me and my teammate [Schimsk], nothing intentional, but it was unfortunate."

Following the contact, it appeared a fourth-place finish would be the best Huffmaster could hope for on the day, but a late-race incident promoted the No. 27 Team MER/Huffmaster Co. MX-5 driver to second.

"Ryan and Ara went two-by-two going through 12 and 13, and that caught me right back up to them. It looked like Ryan got a little optimistic, went in too hard and Ara was right there. It's unfortunate for both of them, but being selfish I'm happy with it because I think I could have been up there.

"Overall it was a great weekend. I feel bad for the team not bringing home a victory, because the car was great."

Even more disappointed was Malkhassian who saw a runner-up finish slip through his hands on the final lap. After a fantastic start from seventh position and leading two laps of the race, Malkhassian had already resigned himself to a second-place finish before the incident with Schimsk.

"I had a great start," Malkhassian said. "I went from seventh to third on the first lap. I picked up one more position the lap after that and it looked like Robert and I were going to be able to break away from the whole universe and get away from it all, but the double yellow conspired against us.

"We got back into the swing, but we had four or five guys challenging us again. We had some incidents behind us and it ended up being Brad and I that broke away. I didn't want to fight Brad, he was looking really racey, so I kind of gave him an easy pass and tucked in behind him."

"It was a classic, 'young guy tries to make a big move on the last lap,'" Malkhassian said of the incident with Schimsk. "It gave a nice guy a second-place finish, but it took away my second place. It was a poor move and I'm really disappointed."

Race officials agreed with Malkhassian's assessment, penalizing Schimsk five positions, not only for the contact with Malkhassian's No. 11 Alara Racing MX-5, but for the contact with Huffmaster as well.

The penalty promoted point leader Foss, of Fort Worth, Texas, to fourth in the No. 28 Team MER/Autobarn Mazda MX-5. Mike Jenkins, of Fairview, Texas, completed the top five in the No. 47 Team MER/Jenkins Bros./Traxxas MX-5, his best career finish.

Mark Jenkins followed his brother across the line in sixth, tying his best-ever finish.

Malkhassian's wife Alison, who made her MX-5 Cup debut at Miller Motorsports Park last year, also earned a career-best result, finishing seventh.

In his MX-5 Cup debut, Tim Buck finished eighth.

Following his penalty and a three-position penalty for Robert Michaelian who was also deemed guilty of avoidable body contact, Schimsk ended up ninth on the final results.

Harrison Williams completed the top 10.

Round Six of the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship will air on DIRECTV, Dish Network and regional cable sports networks the week of October 13. Visit www.mx-5cup.com for broadcast times.

Round Seven is only a week away, Sept. 26 -- 28, at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Live timing and lap notes will be available throughout the weekend at www.mx-5cup.com

-credit: scca pro racing

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About this article
Series SCCA
Drivers Brad Rampelberg , Ara Malkhassian , Todd Buras , Eric Foss , Harrison Williams
Teams Williams , Alara Racing