ALARA Racing principal Ara Malkhassian at Sebring. (Mark Weber photo)
For ALARA Racing, 2012 was a banner year as the team finished in its highest position in the SCCA Pro Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup championship. However, the team is not resting on past success. The addition of two drivers that bring impressive résumés, and momentum from back-to-back second-place finishes in last year's penultimate and final rounds of racing, have the team looking forward to the prospect of success this year.
Team principal Ara Malkhassian, of Houston, ended 2012 second in championship points. That marked the series' most experienced driver's best finish in the championship, but more importantly was the highest season-ending position that an ALARA Racing driver had earned. The career-best finish was built on the back of consistency, embodied by five top-three finishes and one win. Two of those finishes where the aforementioned second places scored in the final two rounds of last year at Road Atlanta.
New faces including rookie Bryan Hixon, the 2012 Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge Champion, and Christian Szymczak, fourth-place in points last year and former Sick Sideways team driver, have joined the ALARA camp for 2013.
“We're thrilled to have Christian and Bryan joining us,” Malkhassian said. Both of them are doing really well with Christian leading the way and Bryan not very far behind.”
Szymczak, of Palos Verdes, Calif., notched three top-threes in 2012, finishing his rookie year in fourth in the spec series. Szymczak started off 2013 in a big way. In two days of testing at Sebring International Raceway, March 1-3, he posted the fastest time of all drivers in the series. He then followed that up setting fastest time in each of the two practice sessions and qualifying at the opening event in Sebring, eventually taking the win in Round One, leading the race from start to finish. Szymczak started Race Two on the pole but ended up crossing the line in second, being passed in the last corner of the final lap.
“I think Christian has definitely brought a new energy to the team with his speed,” Malkhassian said. “It's really good for the crew's energy and also a good comparison point for the rest of the drivers. We're learning a lot from him as he's working with us."
Szymczak is the current point leader in the series heading into Race Three and Four at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. His 125 markers come as a result of his first- and second-place finishes as well as a total of five bonus points for earning both poles.
Hixon, of San Antonio, finished only three of 11 races off the podium last year in the equally-prepared Skip Barber race cars. Hixon also displayed raw speed, starting from a front-row position, in each of the final seven races of the season.
“Bryan is a fellow Texan and we're really enjoying having him on the team. Aside from Christian, everyone else on the team is a Texas or Louisiana guy, so Bryan fits in well from that standpoint,” Malkhassian said. “He's definitely learning very quickly and we're very happy with the progress he's made so far.”
Malkhassian said that Hixon being a fellow Texan will only help his overall progress in the series.
“He [Hixon] can come and test with us locally, and we can spend some time together in a non-pressure environment, unlike the race weekend, and give him a chance to learn and enjoy the finer things about Texas living,” Malkhassian said.
Currently, Hixon sits in sixth place, four points behind his boss, Malkhassian. Tim Probert, of Houston, sitting in ninth place, Harrison Williams, of Houston, in 12th position and Brent Mosing, of Lafayette, La., in 14th, make up the balance of the ALARA team.
ALARA Racing was founded in 2001 and is owned by Malkhassian and his wife, Alison. The organization was originally developed to be a prep-shop for drivers in the SCCA Club Racing Spec Miata class, building nearly 40 cars through 2005.
The announcement regarding the creation of the Mazda MX-5 Cup in 2005 piqued the interest of many ALARA customers. The organization changed gears from Club Racing to SCCA Pro Racing. Since that time, ALARA has competed in every Mazda MX-5 Cup event since the first race of the series in 2006. Malkhassian said that there are two things separating his team from the others in the paddock.
“We have two things going on,” Malkhassian said. “One, Ken Murillo as crew chief is an amazing asset to the team. Ken has a rich history, both in terms of his victories in racing and championships in the pro world, as well as him having national championship success on the Club Racing side.
“The other side is the camaraderie and the friendship that we have in the trailer, at the restaurants and everywhere else.”
The friendly, relationship-based attitude stems from the team's initial focus on Club Racing.
“That's part of the magic of our team, the camaraderie of the team,” Malkhassian said. “Most of us have been here for a very long time and we welcome our new teammates into our winning times as well. A big part of our experience is to have social time together. We eat almost every meal together and spend a lot of time enjoying each other's company. It's a big part of what ALARA Racing is all about.”
Many of the drivers that have driven or currently drive ALARA Mazda MX-5 Cup cars compete in other forms of professional sports car racing. While some of the drivers have dabbled in other forms of racing, the primary focus of ALARA Racing continues to be the Mazda MX-5 Cup. That said, the team is keeping its options with Mazda open.
“ALARA Racing has been building, preparing and racing Mazdas in an, almost, exclusive fashion and continues to drive to excel in the hotly-contested Mazda MX-5 Cup series,” Malkhassian said. “Our plans for the future are to continue to be dedicated to excellence in the world-class Mazda MX-5 Cup series and investigate further partnership with Mazda in other professional racing series.”
ALARA Racing and the rest of the teams and drivers of the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup will be in action for a doubleheader event May 9-11. Championship Rounds Three and Four will be held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey, Calif. For more information on the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup go to www.mx-5cup.com or follow the series on Twitter @MazdaMX-5Cup and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/48522898534/.