MX-5: Series Road Atlanta round one preview

MX-5 Cup Ushers in Fourth Season at Road Atlanta ATLANTA, Ga. (April 30, 2009) -- Green leaves have returned to trees, coats have gone back in the closet and the days are getting longer, signaling that the race season is in full swing. Not so...

MX-5 Cup Ushers in Fourth Season at Road Atlanta

ATLANTA, Ga. (April 30, 2009) -- Green leaves have returned to trees, coats have gone back in the closet and the days are getting longer, signaling that the race season is in full swing. Not so for the teams of SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup, however, who are waiting anxiously to begin season number four. The wait finally ends this weekend, April 30 -- May 2, at Road Atlanta, during the Classic Motorsports Walter Mitty Challenge.

How could the cars look different in a spec series you ask? If you've been to a Mazda dealership lately, you'll have noticed nearly the entire line of vehicles has undergone a cosmetic makeover, the MX-5 Miata included. While not yet a requirement, the MX-5 Cup cars are welcome to sport the latest bodywork, most noticeably a slick new front bumper.

Another new feature on the cars this season is the tires. For the 2009 season, the BFGoodrich0x00ae g-Force0x2122 R10x2122 tire will be the official spec tire of MX-5 Cup.

The team that's produced the last three MX-5 Cup Champions, Team MER, is aiming to keep the streak alive with a mix of returning and new drivers. Brothers Mike and Mark Jensen are back for their third season. Both showed tremendous improvement last season, with each collecting his first top-five finish. When not competing in off-road racing, Mike will pilot the No. 47 Traxxas/ BFG/Simpson/Amsoil MX-5 and Mark the No. 25 Traxxas/ BFG/Simpson/Amsoil MX-5.

Marc Miller has served as Team MER's lead engineer since 2007, but will climb into the driver's seat this season. With an impressive racing resume spanning the gamut from F12000 and Formula Ford to CASCAR and, most recently, the 2008 United States Rotax Max Championship, Miller will be a tough opponent in the No. 28 MER/ MMP Design MX-5.

Team MER adds 2007 Runoffs0x00ae podium finisher and Jim Fitzgerald Rookie of the Year Award winner Nick Mancuso to its roster as well. After competing in the inaugural Jetta TDI Cup last season, Mancuso will take his best shot at the MAZDASPEED Driver Development ladder by taking over the reigns of the No. 29 Lake Forest Sports Cars/Tire Lyna /LEAC/Max Shesitz Foundation MX-5 this season.

Now in his fourth season of MX-5 Cup, Ara Malkhassian holds the distinction of being the most experienced driver in the field, with 23 race starts and 18 top-10 finishes. His single MX-5 Cup victory came at Road Atlanta in 2007, so expect to see the No. 11 ALARA Racing MX-5 at the front this weekend.

ALARA Racing welcomes the latest MX-5 Cup shootout winner to its squad this season, Justin Piscitell. Though he only had a year of racing experience with the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Challenge, Piscitell thoroughly impressed the judges at the shootout in December, and won himself a full season in MX-5 Cup.

Those shootout judges know how to pick'em; the two previous shootout winners, Andrew Caddell and Brad Rampelberg, each won races and were in contention for the Championship in their first season of MX-5 Cup, so we don't expect anything less from Piscitell.

Owner of Hale Motorsports, Randy Hale is back again to pilot the No. 21 Patron Tequila MX-5 and has added some punch to his driver lineup with World Challenge regular Stan Wilson. The 2007 World Challenge Touring Car Rookie of the Year and accomplished SCCA Club racer will drive the No. 92 Wilson Racing/Hale Motorsports MX-5.

In case you missed it, the Hooverspeed team has relocated to Buford, Ga., just down the road from Road Atlanta, and has therefore been appropriately renamed Atlanta Motorsports Group (AMG). The team will campaign Brett Smrz in the No. 6 Smrz Racing/InTouch Physical Therapy MX-5. The 18-year-old impressed in his 2007 MX-5 Cup debut by winning pole at the Grand Prix of Houston, and finishing third. Unfortunately, his season was derailed shortly thereafter when Smrz sustained a broken leg in a trampoline accident that was so severe, doctors were forced to amputate a portion of his left leg. Smrz returned to the cockpit last season with a prosthesis and collected a season-high second at Mosport.

The MX-5 talent pool is deep for the season opener at Road Atlanta and filled with a mix of series regulars and fresh new talent. A challenging course like Road Atlanta will quickly identify who the main players will be for the 2009 season. Afterall, last year's winner, Eric Foss, went on to become the 2008 Champ.

Live timing and scoring will be available throughout the weekend at MX-5 Cup has a 10:15 a.m. (EDT) and 1:25 p.m. (EDT) practice session on Thursday, April 30. Qualifying will take place Friday, May 1, at 12:30 p.m. (EDT). Round One of the 2009 Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup is slated for Saturday, May 2, at 1:30 p.m. (EDT).

-credit: scca pro racing

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About this article
Series SCCA
Drivers Skip Barber , Stan Wilson , Brad Rampelberg , Randy Hale , Ara Malkhassian , Mark Jensen , Nick Mancuso , Andrew Caddell , Eric Foss , Brett Smrz , Justin Piscitell , Marc Miller