MX-5: Series Road America preview

MX-5 Cup Returns to Famed Road America ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (Aug. 6, 2008) - The 2008 SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup season has hit the halfway mark and what better way to put the field to the test than to bring them to legendary Road...

MX-5 Cup Returns to Famed Road America

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (Aug. 6, 2008) - The 2008 SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup season has hit the halfway mark and what better way to put the field to the test than to bring them to legendary Road America. Four miles is a long lap for an MX-5 Cup car, but in this series that just means an extra handful of lead changes each time around.

Championship point leader Eric Foss is three-for-three when it comes to podium finishes this season in the No. 28 Team MER/Autobarn Mazda MX-5, but this will be his first visit to Road America. Foss had never been to Portland before, but that didn't stop him from capturing a third-place finish there. Road America is a bit longer than Portland however, and it may take longer for Foss to get acclimated. It's lucky for Foss then, that there are two full days of testing before Round Four commences.

At Portland, Brad Rampelberg continued the series' string of first-time winners. First it was Foss at Road Atlanta, then Robert Huffmaster at Mosport, and most recently Rampelberg collected his first win in the No. 14 Hooverspeed/Mazda/Patron Tequila MX-5 at the Mazda Grand Prix of Portland. With the win, Rampelberg pushed himself to second in the Championship, nine points behind Foss.

From Clarkston, Mich., Huffmaster is more familiar with Road America than Foss or Rampelberg thanks to his SCCA Club Racing days. Following his win at Mosport, Huffmaster had an impressive race in Portland, where he worked his No. 27 Team MER/Huffmaster Companies MX-5 up from 14th on the grid to a fourth-place finish. A member of Team MER, much of Huffmaster's competition comes from his own team. Not only is his he up against Foss, but Huffmaster also has young Ryan Schimsk to contend with. Schimsk has qualified his No. 81 Team MER/Airco Mechanical MX-5 in the top five at each round thus far, but has had trouble finishing there in the last two races.

Todd Buras now has two podium finishes under his belt this season thanks to a runner-up finish at Portland, where he started his No. 56 Hooverspeed/Pancreaticcure.org MX-5 seventh. Buras continues to be stronger in the race itself than in qualifying, and has finished every race higher than he started. He didn't have the opportunity to do that the last time the series visit Road America, as he recorded a DNF.

Sitting fifth in the Championship is 17-year-old Christian Franck. Driving the No. 16 Alara Racing/Select Painting MX-5, Franck was battling with the leaders at Portland, and even led a lap, before a bobble sent him back through the field. Franck continued to charge and brought home a sixth-place finish. Thus far, Franck has finished ahead of Alara team owner Ara Malkhassian in each round, but Malkhassian is considerably more experienced here and finished second in the last MX-5 Cup race at Road America in the No. 11 Alara Racing MX-5.

Neal Sapp's MX-5 Cup finishes are on an upward trajectory. The No. 33 Hale Motorsports/Patron Tequila MX-5 driver finished 10th at Road Atlanta, then eighth at Mosport and most recently finished seventh at Portland. Like Buras, Sapp consistently finishes higher than he qualifies, and the likes of Foss, Rampelberg and Buras better watch out if he qualifies in the top five this weekend in Elkhart Lake.

The paddock should also keep an eye on Wisconsinite Steve Welk who has more laps around Road America than any other driver in the field. Not only has Welk competed at Road America in a variety of open-wheel series and in SCCA Club Racing competition, but he works as a driving instructor for the track's Skip Barber Racing School. In the long break between Mosport and Portland, Welk entered the June Sprints, winning D Prepared in the very same No. 57 UMW Motorwerks/Welk's Auto MX-5 that he'll pilot this weekend.

In 2006, Road America served as the season finale for MX-5 Cup. This year, the challenging four-mile course is the mid-point of the eight-race season. Several drivers competing this weekend have never been to Road America before, while others have yet to have a race season that didn't involve the country's oldest permanent road course. The racing will be as close as ever, but expect a few surprises along the way. As always, 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 Skip Barber , Steve Welk , Brad Rampelberg , Ara Malkhassian , Todd Buras , Christian Franck , Eric Foss
Teams HART , Alara Racing