TOPEKA, Kan. — Elliott Skeer is looking to put his own stamp on the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship in 2013.
The Vista, Calif., driver is hoping his sophomore season will mirror the success of his former C.J. Wilson Racing, Mazda MX-5 Cup teammate, Stevan McAleer, from last year.
McAleer, of Scotland, took home the series championship in 2012, scoring eight podiums, including three wins. Using the finishing positions of the Scot as a measuring stick, Skeer is off to a better start in 2013.
Skeer drove his No. 17 Pelican Replacement Windows/ZoomZoomNation.com/
AlpineStars MX-5 to a fourth-place finish in the opening round of the championship at Sebring, and followed that up with a win in Round Two one day later, earning an average finishing position of 2.5. Last year at this time, McAleer’s average finishing position was 4.0, following a win and seventh-place finish in rounds one and two, respectively. Skeer hopes to use lessons learned from his former teammate to score some quality finishes.
“He [McAleer] helped me in many ways, from setting up late race passes to throwing down the best lap possible in qualifying,” Skeer said. “It is definitely something that will help out this season. During a race, I will have one or two ‘What would Stevan do?’ moments and think about how he would approach a certain situation. He has really helped me in improving both my speed and my race craft.”
For Skeer to match McAleer’s 617 points earned in 2012, Skeer must have an average of a fourth-place finish for the remainder of the season. The one caveat is that this year’s schedule has one additional race from last year. That means that the 617 points that was enough to take home the championship by 49 points in 2012 may not be enough to win this year. Skeer feels the pressure to perform, but is trying to take it all in stride.
“I do feel pressure, I would say more internally than externally,” Skeer said. “Stevan [McAleer] set a benchmark as the head CJWR driver last year, and that is what I am trying to live up to. His success from last year is the highest you can achieve in this series, so to prove to myself that I am at the same level as Stevan, means meeting the same achievements. One positive about this is that Stevan knows the type of pressure that I am under internally and helps out when possible so I can get the best results. “
Skeer finished fourth in the 2012 championship, as a rookie, but will build on his experience throughout last season into 2013. Familiarity with the circuits and race procedures are just a few of the items that Skeer will be able to put out of his mind, allowing him to focus on driving the car.
“Going into last year, I had never been to any of these tracks before the race weekend,” Skeer said. “At least, now I know the tracks and feel more comfortable in the series. So I think I can use that, to just be a little more comfortable in the races, because I know what could possibly happen, the scenarios, and possibly race smarter, which should pay dividends come the end of the race and the end of the championship.”
Like many young drivers, Skeer began his career in karts at age six. He progressed up the karting ranks, competing in a Spec Miata in SCCA Club Racing in 2011. Any race car driver will tell you that each car has a distinct personality. That is even more true when making the jump between different classes of racing as Skeer has done, moving from karts to Spec Miata to Mazda MX-5 Cup in the span of only three years. Working from last year’s mental notebook, Skeer has also gained a greater understanding of what it takes to put a Mazda MX-5 Cup car at the limit and at the front of the pack.
“In these things you are on the edge the entire time,” Skeer said. “Getting used to that, and then the racecraft with the ABS is a totally different braking zone. Passing somebody, you can, literally, just out-brake them. You go into a braking zone and you can just say ‘I’m going to out-brake you.’ The dicing is a little different, and, of course, the competition level is stronger here. You’re always in a battle, and the people you are battling are always strong and will rarely make a mistake.”
There are also behind-the-scenes adjustments that young drivers, especially, must overcome in order to be successful. One of these obstacles, which can become a huge stumbling block if not addressed properly, is working in a team environment. There is much more to professional racing, from the standpoint of a driver, than just making quick laps. The sheer number of people with which the driver has to communicate in order to have positive on-track results goes up exponentially from that which they are accustomed.
In most cases, drivers coming from a karting background discuss setup changes with a single parent or, in rare instances, a dedicated mechanic that handles all aspects of the kart. When dealing with a professional race team, each person has a specialized job or list of things they are responsible for. A driver has to switch between talking spring rates with the suspension specialist to discussing tire pressures with the tire specialist. This is a trial-and-error process that all drivers go through including Skeer. However, he used 2012 to set the groundwork for a positive relationship with his team and will build on that throughout the season.
“Through karting and Spec Miata, I raced on very small and low-key teams,” Skeer said. “Usually 3-4 drivers and we were never the top team. So stepping into an environment where everything is at the professional standard has been a great experience. It was a real culture shock at first, but has now become a great tool to become a better driver. Racing is a team sport, and having the right people around you makes the job just that much easier.”