NORTH ISLAND, Calif. — John Dean notched his first SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup win of the season, as the checkered flag marked the end of round nine of 12 in 2013.
Championship leader Christian Szymczak finished second, ahead of Elliott Skeer.
The 35-lap race, which averaged 80.132 mph, was slowed by one caution period that lasted three laps. The yellow flag was brought out when a car impacted a tire barrier in the back-straight chicane. The ensuing restart proved to be the deciding factor in the race.
Driving the No. 16 Projections Research/Sick Sideways MX-5, Dean, the defending race winner, stared the race in second and held that position through the first few laps. By Lap Four, Dean got gotten around Szymczak on the 11-turn, 1.44-mile temporary airport course, but was passed by Skeer later in the lap.
When the yellow flag came out on lap six, Dean sat in second, but made the most the close confines provided by the lap-eight restart. Once the green came out, Dean drove by Skeer on the approach to Turn One and never looked back from there, holding off a charging Szymczak during the closing laps of the race.
“It’s a tough race here and it’s hard to pass,” Dean said. “On the restart, after the yellow flag, I was in third. I don’t think Christian (Szymczak) and Skeer realized it was going to be such an early green. I went to power, while they were late to the throttle, and was able to drive by. Once I got to the lead, we were able to control the race. On the last lap we caught up to a gaggle of cars. I had to run wide, which opened the door for Christian (Szymczak). He tried to make a move in the last corner, knocked me off the track and then gave the spot back to me before the line.
“I’m happy to have broken the ice. We’ve been fast all year, but have been unlucky in qualifying forcing us to start fairly far back. Hopefully, at the end of the season, we can show the potential we had all year.”
Szymczak turned in some blistering laps in his No. 54 ALARA Racing, after taking over second from Skeer on lap 17. By that time, Dean had pulled out a comfortable lead on the rest of the field, forcing Szymczak reel him back in. In the process, Szymczak set a new race-lap record of 1:12.052 (84.938 mph).
By lap 21, Szymczak had closed the gap to Dean, putting himself within striking distance of the lead. While Dean held off Szymczak for 13 laps, Szymczak used lap traffic to his advantage pulling alongside and rubbing fenders with Dean in Turn 10 on the final lap. The collision slowed the No. 16 Projections Research/Sick Sideways MX-5 and pushed Szymczak off course, forcing the driver of the No. 34 ALARA Racing machine to relinquish the lead position.
“I was driving as hard as I could,” Szymczak said. “I was really looking for any opening I could find. It’s just a very difficult track on which to pass, and John [Dean] was getting a great run on the straightaway, which left no real opening for me to pass him going into Turn One. Aside from that turn, there’s really not another great place to make a pass.
“On the last lap, Dean and I got together. He came up on traffic and had to slow down, while I had a run because of that. We hit hard, and at the time I perceived that to be partially my fault. So, I backed out of it and let him finish ahead of me, but I think it was his race. He did a good job defending his lead and I couldn’t make a viable pass attempt happen. He deserved to win.”
Skeer was a factor in the opening laps of the race, but was unable to keep pace with the leaders as he fought an understeer condition in his No. 17 Pelican Replacement Windows/ZoomZoomNation.com/Alpinestars MX-5.
“From the beginning of the weekend, we were chasing an oversteer,” Skeer said. “We kept adjusting on it and took too much of it out. Then, we just had too much understeer for the whole race.
“I was able to get around John (Dean) and Christian (Szymczak) early, but then the double yellow flag came out. On the restart, the green was thrown a lot earlier than any of us anticipated. So, then I was playing catch up from there. From the restart on, we were just a little outpaced.”
Skeer’s teammate Patrick Gallagher drove his No. 28 MAZDASPEED/Howard Concrete Pumping/CTL Engineering MX-5 to a fourth-place finish, his fifth top-five of the season.
Nathanial Sparks finished a hard-fought fifth position. For much of the race, the fifth-place battle was the closest on track, as James Vance and Ara Malkhassian both held the position under green-flag conditions.
Driving the No. 63 Skip Barber Racing School SBMX-5, Kenton Koch, of Glendora, Calif., took his eighth Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge victory of the season with a 45.673-second gap back to his closest competitor.