Stevan McAleer Wins Wild MX-5 Cup Finale And 2012 Series Championship at Road Atlanta
Clinching the 2012 SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup season championship lined up easy for Stevan McAleer who only needed to start the race to claim victory. Nevertheless the Scotsman was very relieved when his Mazda eagerly fired to life on race morning at the Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda event at Road Atlanta. But as a true racer McAleer did more than prance and preen on the parade lap he proceeded to win a wild, "Rock'em-Sock'em" shootout on the track.
The 28-lap race featured a remarkable 18 official lead changes amongst five different drivers, with McAleer's #28 Blue Mercury Capital/Numerix/CJ Wilson Racing MX-5 averaging 93.728 mph in the 71.12-mile race. In the end the race podium mirrored the championship, with Ara Malkhassian, of Houston, Texas, and John Dean, of Sebring, Fla., filling out the top three spots.
The long straightaways at Road Atlanta create a drafting opportunity for the identical Mazda MX-5 racers, keeping the field tightly bunched through the race. The lead pack featured a nine-car train for most of the race, with every driver trying to decide what strategy would give them the best finish and when to enact it.
McAleer floated between first and fifth through the race, then put himself on the point with two laps to go. With Malkhassian's #11 ALARA Racing MX-5 and Dean's #16 Projections Research/Sick Sideways MX-5 battling through the final lap, McAleer inched ahead for a 0.963-second lead. "I got into a rhythm and I felt the car was quick," said the newly crowned 2012 Champion. "I dropped back a little bit mid-race, and it ended up that they started their usual fighting. For me, John and Ara were going to go at it at some point, it was guaranteed. They said it was five minutes to go on the radio and I went for an outside move on all of them in Turn 10 and managed to pull it off. They pretty much ran side-by-side for the next three or four corners, and I went on and made sure everything was perfect.
"I actually didn't see the checker! I heard about a flag coming out, but I swear it looked like a blue flag. I actually looked in my mirror, I was like 'why am I getting a blue flag here?' But to end the championship with a victory is unbelievable."
The battle for second on the final lap was concurrent to the battle for second in the Championship. Dean's Mazda led the most laps and picked up two bonus points, but when Malkhassian bounced back from a low of eight place on lap eight, the pressure was on. At the finish Malkhassian, the day's polesitter, won out by a lone point — thanks solely to having a slight lead across the stripe after lap 22 and gaining a bonus point. It's the highest career point finish for Malkhassian, who has missed just two races in the Series' six-year history. Malkhassian also set the fastest race lap in a record 1:39.654 (91.757 mph).
"That was the hardest race I've ever had," Malkhassian said. "So many different people were in the front, and so many different personalities and we had to fall back for a little while, let everything clear out, and work our way back up to the front. We have strategy that we try to use every time here, it's just John Dean had a hellacious run out of five and I had to defend too hard. That allowed McAleer to escape, otherwise we had a shot at doing the move, but it didn't happen. What a great event, a great Mazda, the BFGoodrich Tires and the Hawk pads, it was great for ALARA Racing."
Dean, whose four race wins are the most of the season, finished third in points in his rookie endeavor. The Sick Sideways driver led a total of 12 laps in the race before falling just shy of the runner-up spot.
"The nature of the track is a big draft, and track position is important," Dean said. "Your enemies turn to friends and your friends turn to enemies out there, and that's part of the fun. It'll be fun to watch on Velocity when we get to watch this race later, but we're just trying to leapfrog and keep a car between me and Ara. We were able to do that early on, but he had a lot of speed at the end. We fought right to the last corner and he ended up getting us to the line and squeaking us by in the championship.
"I won the most races this year, I feel pretty good about that. I had a penalty early in the season, and so the rookie season was a big learning experience for myself as a driver and us as a team. If we are able to come back next year, you'll see us there. We'll be strong."
Dean's teammate, Christian Szymczak, finished fourth in the race and fourth in the Championship in his rookie season in the #34 Projections Research/Sick Sideways MX-5.
Dean Copeland's #7 Copeland Motorsports/Sync Speed Inc. MX-5 started 10th and worked his way into the lead for lap 16 and 17 before finishing fifth.
Nathanial Sparks ran the race in the rear of the lead pack, unable to move to the front but hanging in for a sixth place finish in the #3 OOTSK Performance/Sick Sideways MX-5 and a fifth-place championship finish.
Elliott Skeer had his #17 MAZDASPEED/Sparco/CJWR MX-5 in the lead with two laps to go, but the 18-year-old fell back in the draft and then ran wide on the final lap after a bump trying to make up the gap, finishing seventh. Skeer finished sixth in the championship, just five markers behind Sparks.
Marc Miller and his #29 ModSpace/Monticello Motor Club/CJWR MX-5, Harrison Williams in the #00 ALARA Racing/Albrecht & Associates MX-5 and Brent Mosing in his #10 Frank's International/ALARA Racing MX-5 rounded out the top 10.
The 2013 SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup will be contested over 12 races. It will share weekends with the IZOD IndyCar Series, the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron, and the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. The party starts at Sebring International Raceway on February 11th for pre-season testing but really gets going on March 13th with the season opening doubleheader run in association with American Le Mans Series.