Dean Steals MX-5 Glory From McAleer

John Dean (No. 16) scored his fourth Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup victory of the season at the Coronado Speed Festival. (Myles Regan/SCCA Photo)
John Dean (No. 16) scored his fourth Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup victory of the season at the Coronado Speed Festival. (Myles Regan/SCCA Photo)

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – John Dean took advantage of slower traffic to take the lead from Stevan McAleer heading into turn one on the final lap and went on to win the inaugural SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup race at the Coronado Speed Festival.

After starting third, Dean made his first appearance in the lead on the opening lap and led three different times for a total of 13 laps around the 1.7-mile Coronado Naval Air Station temporary circuit in the No. 16 Projections Research/Sick Sideways Mazda MX-5. He ran in the lead pack throughout the 45-minute, 37-lap event and was clearly in the right place at the right time as the white flag flew.

Once in front, Dean managed to hold off a final charge from McAleer and his CJ Wilson Racing teammate Elliott Skeer over the final lap. Dean won by 1.176 seconds ahead of Skeer, who took second coming off the final turn in the race.

It was quite a turnaround for Dean from a week ago at Virginia International Raceway, where he crashed on the final lap of the race. In fact, he was driving a car borrowed from Dean Copeland, who did not make the cross-country trip.

“The track was brutal,” said Dean, who picked up his fourth victory of the season. “It’s really bumpy out here, it’s hot, I’m exhausted, the car is tired, the brakes were going away, and I didn’t think I was going to have anything to work with to make a pass. Lapped traffic hurt me and that’s why I lost the lead there, and then McAleer ended up getting it in return at the end and I was able to slip by.

“Unfortunately, he tried to make a move on me in the last corner and Skeer just edged him out to the line, which kind of makes me happy. It was fun to watch. I’ve really got to thank Dean Copeland and Copeland Motorsports for loaning me their car. VIR was a nightmare for us and I didn’t have anything to drive coming here. We brought his car out and it performed well. I can’t thank him enough.”

Skeer, who hails from nearby Vista, Calif., earned his fifth podium result of the season with the second-place run in the No. 17 MAZDASPEED/Sparco/Milgard Windows & Doors Mazda MX-5. The 18-year old led three laps early on and got a bit of revenge on McAleer, who stole the pole position from him on the final lap of Saturday’s qualifying session.

“We have tendency to do that, it seems like,” Skeer said. “There have been probably five or six situations this year where we just nick each other. It’s really good though, because we use each other for reference and driving styles; who’s faster where. Being this close to a teammate makes us both much better drivers and it should really help out in the long run.

“Big thanks to Mazda for putting this on. This is really cool to have an event that’s home for both myself and Mazda being up in Irvine. That was really cool for them to do it. We had just enough car to hang on to the front two, but there really wasn’t much I could do after that. It was kind of frustrating just spending everything just to stay with them. I kind of wish I had a tenth of a second more a lap, because then I really think I would have had a shot. That last lap was definitely crazy. Debris was everywhere, cars were going everywhere and a Skip Barber came across and checked everybody up, so I was able to get Stevan. It was one position less than I was gunning for, but hey, I’ve got to be happy with a second. It’s pretty good.”

McAleer started from the pole position in the No. 28 CJ Wilson Children’s Charities/Blue Mercury Capital/ Mazda MX-5, but didn’t lead his first lap until Lap 16 of the 37-lap race. He led a race-high 21 laps, but was forced to settle for a third-place result following the events of the final lap. It was his seventh podium result of the season and he now leads the championship standings by 30 points, 444-414, over Ara Malkhassian with two races remaining on the schedule.

“I messed up the start a little,” said McAleer. “I got an initial good jump, but then I made a mistake and it managed to let John and Elliott slip by. We were quick. We were really quick, but John started to sneak away from Elliott, so we did a position swap. I knew my car was super fast, so we pulled him in fairly quickly. I made the move on him, it was a clean move, he gave me the move, and then it was basically trying to drive as fast as I could and as smooth as I could. I would get away and every so often make a tiny little error, which would kind of hold him in the draft there.

“Unfortunately, coming to the last lap there, the [No.] 62 Skip Barber car just pointed me past in the chicane, looked in the mirror, saw us all coming, pointed me past, never gave me the pass and then defended the line in the hairpin with nobody in front of him. Unfortunately, we had the lead for the win today. The win was definitely ours and we had enough car lengths where we were going to hold the win for sure. Overall, for the points, I’m happy. For the race weekend we’re pretty disappointed just with that last Skip Barber car at the end there.”

Kenton Koch, of Glendora, Calif., finished fourth in the overall race standings and took the Skip Barber Racing School MAZDASPEED Pro Series race victory in the No. 91 KKoch Enterprises MX-5.

Nathaniel Sparks, of Spanish Fort, Ala., finished fourth in Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup and fifth overall in the No. 3 OOTSK Performance/BimmerWorld MX-5. Tim Probert, of Houston, Texas, finished fifth in MX-5 Cup in the No. 26 ALARA Garage machine.