NORTH ISLAND, Calif. — Christian Szymczak secured the pole position for Sunday’s round nine of the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup. John Dean and Elliott Skeer completed the top three, in that order.
Szymczak set an early fast lap and never looked back, driving the No. 34 ALARA Racing MX-5 like he stole it. In setting the pole speed, he also reset the qualifying lap record set by Stevan McAleer in 2012. He improved upon the old record of 1:13.867 (82.815 mph), as he navigated the 11-turn, 1.44-mile temporary airport course in 1:12.718 (84.160 mph).
“It’s going to be a tough race,” Szymczak said. “The track keeps changing and there can be a lot of obstacles to avoid. The risk of a DNF is higher here than anywhere else. The key to this race will to be careful.
“It’s very difficult to pass here. Because we don’t get into fifth gear and there is so little drafting, it’s tough to get a run on someone into a braking zone, like you can at other tracks. The pole is more important here than it is anywhere else we’ve raced, so far.”
Dean, the defending race winner, showed some competitive speed, again, as he will start Sunday’s race in second. Driving the No. 16 Projections Research/Sick Sideways MX-5, Dean stopped the clock at 1:12.948 (83.895 mph). Dean said that he has already started focusing less on the championship and more on scoring wins.
“Track position is very important for qualifying, here,” Dean said. “It’s really difficult because you’re trying to push as hard as you can, but you’re also trying not to wad it up in the tires in the chicane. The chicane is very tight, it’s easy to enter quickly, but it’s impossible to get out because the exit is so tight. You get into a spot where you feel like you’re going too slow on entry, but then you push it a little more and find yourself in the tires.
“I was trying to push as hard as I could. Ultimately we’re pretty happy where we are. The race is going to be really difficult. I’m going to want to go as fast as I can to put some distance between myself and the rest of the field. I haven’t won a race yet this year, which is kind of frustrating. So, I’m just looking forward to winning some races and seeing what we can do for the remainder of the season.”
Skeer will start round nine directly behind his championship adversary, after qualifying for the third position, with a time of 1:13.135 (83.680 mph). With passing opportunities on the short and confining airport course at a premium, Skeer may be in the best position to capitalize on a good start from the grid in his No. 17 Pelican Replacement Windows/ZoomZoomNation.com/Alpinestars MX-5.
“This track is very tight, fast and hard to drive,” Skeer said. “Track position is everything and being able to qualify up front and not have many passes to make will save you toward the end of the race.
“John [Dean] and I were going back and forth with our times throughout the session. It was a little frustrating that we couldn’t lock down second, but I knew we were getting closer to Christian [Szymczak]. I feel like we have a good racecar with good pace, so now we just have to go get it done during the race.
Skeer’s rookie teammate, Patrick Gallagher, of Thornville, Ohio, will start next to him, in row two, after Gallagher qualified fourth. The best lap Gallagher turned in at the controls of the No. 28 MAZDASPEED/Howard Concrete Pumping/CTL Engineering was a 1:13.160 (83.652 mph).
Tim Probert, of Houston, completed the top five after recording a time of 1:13.851 (82.869 mph) behind the wheel of the No. 26 ALARA Garage/ALARA Racing MX-5.
Kenton Koch, of Glendora, Calif., locked down his ninth consecutive Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge pole in 2013. His best lap in the No. 63 Skip Barber Racing School SBMX-5 was a 1:13.910 (82.803 mph), a new qualifying record for the class.
“Going into qualifying, I was planning on trying to do an early flying lap, in case there was a red flag,” Koch said. “With the way the course it designed, there is just a greater chance of that happening. I did a quick third lap and pulled into the pits, knowing the track was going to get faster, like it did last year.
“While I was sitting in the pits looking at the times, did drop. With three minutes to go, I went back out. It’s a good thing I did, otherwise I would have been second or third. Pole is a nice thing to have going into tomorrow’s race since it’s so tough to pass around here.”