MX-5: Series Road Atlanta race notes

Miller Wins Thrilling MX-5 Cup Season Opener at Road Atlanta BRASELTON, Ga. (May 2, 2009) -- In his series debut, Marc Miller, of Holland, Mich., won Round One of the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup, part of the Classic Motorsports...

Miller Wins Thrilling MX-5 Cup Season Opener at Road Atlanta

BRASELTON, Ga. (May 2, 2009) -- In his series debut, Marc Miller, of Holland, Mich., won Round One of the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup, part of the Classic Motorsports Magazine Walter Mitty Challenge at Road Atlanta. Mark Jenkins, of Fairview, Texas, finished second, followed by Justin Piscitell, of Patterson, N.Y.

Starting fifth, Miller played it cool on the start and opening laps to ensure his No. 28 Team MER/MOCA/RaceForAutism MX-5 stayed in one piece for the full 22-lap, 55.58-mile race.

"I checked up a little bit at the start," Miller said. "This is my first MX-5 Cup race and I've seen a lot of race video of things happening on the first lap. I knew the car was really good, so essentially I just checked up and slotted into fourth. I was comfortable there and I waited for the race to come to me."

Indeed the race would come to Miller, but first he'd have to wait through a four-lap caution period, while corner workers cleared the No. 7 Copeland Motorsports/King Rat/Syncs MX-5 of Dean Copeland from Turn Seven. When green flag racing resumed on lap eight, Miller was still fourth behind then-leader Ara Malkhassian, followed by Lyonel Kent and Jenkins.

Kent would fall back shortly after the restart with transmission trouble in his No. 13 ALARA Racing/eData Solutions MX-5, leaving Jenkins and Malkhassian to battle for the lead. Miller then took advantage of a passing attempt by Malkhassian to get by the No. 11 ALARA Racing MX-5.

"It looked like Ara went in to pass and I rolled around the outside of him in 10B and up the hill," Miller recalled. "I got by him again, he went through Five and jumped around, then I was able to pull alongside and get him going into Six."

From there, it was a three-way fight for the lead between Miller, Jenkins and Piscitell, as the trio worked the draft around the 12-turn, 2.54-mile road course. With two laps to go, Miller was able to break free, crossing the line with a 2.474-second margin of victory.

"Once I started to relax a bit, the car felt better," Miller said. "The competition is so close, you're really just trying to manage the car throughout the race. The last two laps, when I got a little bit of breathing room, I put my head down and ran two really good, clean laps. Once I broke the draft, they couldn't do anything with me."

Although it was Miller's first MX-5 Cup race, he is no stranger to the series, working with Team MER as an engineer for the past two seasons. The father of two was thrilled to score a win for the team and for a cause close to his heart, Race Now for Autism, which was founded by Miller and his wife Jackie, whose son Evan was diagnosed with autism.

"I feel unbelievably ecstatic," Miller said. "I'm extremely excited to be representing a team that [previous Champions] Jason [Saini] and Eric [Foss] have done such a good job representing over the last two years. I'm happy to have the opportunity to race and equally to have Race Now For Autism and the Mazda Owners Club of America on the car. I feel like this car represents a good group of people and it makes me feel extremely proud to get the win and get some exposure for them."

Jenkins made it a one-two finish for Team MER at Road Atlanta. The driver of the No. 25 Team MER/JBR/Traxxas/BFG/Simpson MX-5 started the race in third and led for several laps following the full-course caution, but dropped out of the top five with four laps remaining. Jenkins set the fastest lap of the race, a 1:42.517 (89.195 mph) in his charge back to the front.

"When I was up front for a good part of the race, I was trying to break free from the draft of the guys behind me," Jenkins said. "I was working the car pretty hard and I needed to back off of it a little bit, but I backed off too much and was right back in shark-infested waters. Someone caught bm from behind at 10A and sent me for a ride, which put me back, but I was able to work back up to second.

"The draft here is huge, so it was like a merry-go-round of a race, there was a lot of give-and-take for position. But, with five minutes to go, you take the gloves off and you just lay it down, go for it and give it what you got."

Currently in his third season of MX-5 cup, the runner-up finish was a career-high for Jenkins and his first-ever podium finish.

Driving the No. 89 ALARA Racing/DAMG Racing MX-5, Piscitell finished third in his first MX-5 Cup race. The winner of the MAZDASPEED MX-5 Cup shootout fell victim to the draft in the closing laps, but then used it to his advantage to earn a podium finish.

"This is a big drafting track, so it has a lot of give and take," Piscitell said. "We were all working together to pull away from the mid-pack, so I think I have to thank a few MER drivers and they've got to thank a few of ours.

"I think at four to go I was in first, then I was in second and then I was in fifth. On the last lap, in the last turns, I was able to squeeze my way in, three-wide up the middle, pop back into third and hold it until the finish."

Mark Jenkin's brother Mike, of Fairview, Texas, also earned a career-best finish at Road Atlanta, finishing fourth in the No. 47 Team MER/JBR/Traxxas/BFG/Amsoil MX-5. Starting 10th, Jenkins earned the Carbotech Hard Charger award for advancing the most positions in the race.

Brett Smrz, of Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, completed the top five in the No. 6 Smrz Racing/In Touch Physical Therapy MX-5. The 18 year-old was running fifth before getting caught in the incident with Copeland, spinning at Turn Five and dropping to 15th. Smrz rocketed to ninth on the lap following the restart and continued to pick off cars for a remarkable comeback.

Zach Ply finished sixth ahead of Kent's ailing MX-5, which had started on pole.

Chris Rhoades, Stan Wilson and Ara Malkhassian completed the top 10.

Round One of the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup will begin airing on syndicated cable networks May 25. A full television schedule will be posted shortly on Round Two will take place May 15 -- 17 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.

-credit: scca pro racing

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Series SCCA
Drivers Dean Copeland , Stan Wilson , Ara Malkhassian , Brett Smrz , Justin Piscitell , Lyonel Kent , Marc Miller