5/3/2005 - Monterey, California - Southpaw Racing based in Dayton, Ohio, had high hopes for the trip to the legendary Mazda Speedway at Laguna Seca for the U.S. Sports Car Invitational Grand-Am Cup 200 in the Sport Touring (ST) class of the ...
5/3/2005 - Monterey, California - Southpaw Racing based in Dayton, Ohio, had high hopes for the trip to the legendary Mazda Speedway at Laguna Seca for the U.S. Sports Car Invitational Grand-Am Cup 200 in the Sport Touring (ST) class of the Grand-Am Cup Series.
Team owner, Frank Howard, of Dayton, Ohio, and Marc Eaton, from Westerville, Ohio, drove the Southpaw Racing Mazda RX-8 No. 49. Mike Halpin, of Scottsdale, Arizona, and Ernie Becker, a Los Angeles native, piloted the No. 50. Southpaw Racing finished 13th in class with the No. 50 and15th in class with the No. 49, but not without the added drama of mechanical problems, damage from contact in heavy traffic and a new track learning curve for most of the crew and drivers.
The No. 49 was plagued by a differential failure during practice causing loss of valuable practice time. This was the first trip to Mazda Laguna Seca for both Howard and Eaton. "Considering the lost practice time before the qualifying session, we managed a 23rd with a 1:48.780," said Frank Howard. "If we could have had more seat time, I think we would have faired better." According to Marc Eaton, "We had some corner entry over- steer that we needed to adjust. This is my first time here and I only had eight laps in the car. There's so much traffic out there, it's tough to get a clean lap to learn the track."
Frank Howard started the 2 ½ hour race on a packed grid of 68 cars, 24 in ST class. The team worked its way through the field and finished 44th overall. Marc Eaton posted the second fastest lap time in the ST class of 144.849 on lap 72. On the checker flag lap, Eaton was maneuvering into the famous "corkscrew" and found the No. 49 without brakes. The car had hard contact with the tire wall at turn 8 and rolled. Eaton was stunned but ok.
Mike Halpin qualified the No. 50 13th in ST with a 1:45.545. In the race, Halpin found his rhythm and was making some great moves and passes. "The car was handling great. The transmission was shifting like butter and the car stuck like glue. I was given a super car to run," proclaimed Halpin. The No. 50 moved up the field and had completed a pass in turn two when a GS Porsche made left side contact. Later on a restart lap, Halpin was hit in the rear at turn 11 causing a spin and loss of valuable positions.
Laguna Seca veteran Ernie Becker took the helm and found the No. 50 was without power steering. "I kept hearing Mike talk about how great the car was set up. I couldn't wait to get in and keep up the charge", said Becker. "But then the damage from the contacts gave me a totally different car. I had no power steering. The alignment was gone and the right rear shock was broken." Despite those mechanical disadvantages and understeer, Becker clicked off a fast lap of 144.936 in the 73rd lap of the race.
Southpaw Racing team owner Frank Howard said, "We're a great team with lots of driver talent. I was satisfied with the outcome considering all that happened. It was good. We're constantly learning and growing as a team." The Southpaw Racing Enterprises team will next visit historic Watkins Glen for the Chemung Canal Trust 200 on Saturday, June 11th at 2:00 P.M. When asked about the Glen, Frank responded, "We'll be ready!"