LAKEVILLE, Conn. (May 29, 2006) – After missing practice for his children’s graduations and then losing a transmission during qualifying, a clean race just would not have fit the type of weekend Jim Daniels, of Germantown, Tenn., had. So, it seemed right that the driver had to overcome more transmission problems, along with several lead changes, to take the checkered flag in Memorial Day’s SCCA Pro Racing SIRIUS Satellite Radio Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by Hankook race, part of the Rolex GT Series Challenge at Lime Rock Park. Todd Buras, of Melbourne, Fla., finished second, 0.161-sec. behind, followed by Erik Stearns, of Van Buren, Ohio.-30-
In the No. 76 specmiata.com/Team MER Mazda MX-5, Daniels jumped out from his pole position to take retain the early lead, holding off a charge from both Buras, in the No. 56 BSI Racing/supportthem.com MX-5, and the No. 28 specmiata.com/Autobarn Mazda MX-5 driven by Jason Saini, of Fort Worth, Texas.
Soon after the top three broke away from the rest of the field, however, Buras, then third, began assaulting the race’s fast lap, continually dropping his time before eventually moving past both Daniels and Saini on Lap Seven. In addition to his fast times, Buras received an extra boost when Daniels’ MX-5’s transmission slipped out of gear, causing him to nearly spin as the trio made its way uphill at turn five of the seven-turn, 1.53-mile course.
Daniels saved it, but his near disaster caused his teammate, Saini, to swerve left to avoid contact. Saini missed Daniels but clipped a fence, causing enough damage to send Saini into pit lane and end his day.
Buras held the lead until lap 15 and again on lap 24 coming out of the race’s first of two full-course cautions, but in the end it was Daniels who triumphed by holding off a charging Buras at the finish.
“Wow, what a race, huh?” said Daniels, who also earned the Hawk Hot Lap award for his 1:02.068 (88.741 mph) on lap 12. “The car was just awesome. I set it up to be tight through Turns One and Two, and I knew those guys could rubber-band to me, but then there was nothing they could do. I knew I didn’t necessarily have them covered, and it wasn’t going to be easy, but I could see that I had hit the setup.
“Then, about 12 minutes into the race, I go to turn on the uphill, and the car pops out of gear. It went to neutral and unloaded the car. That put me sideways, Jason [Saini] tried to avoid me and caught the guard rail. After that, I couldn’t find fourth gear. That let Todd get back around me.”
Daniels also said he thought he was going to need some extra help to pull off his first win of 2006.
“I was hoping for more yellows to tell you the truth,” Daniels said. “In all honesty, through the fast right-handers, I could watch daylight increase between Todd and me. I’d like to thank him for an excellent race because there were several opportunities where he could have put a bumper on me where I was having to slow him up so he couldn’t get momentum on me.”
Had the race gone even a few extra laps green, Buras said, he felt the Round Two victory could have been his.
“First off, we have the points lead for the championship, so that’s pretty good after two rounds,” said Buras, who leads Daniels 57-55 in the point standings. “The run was great. We had a little push on the slow stuff and the car was awesome in the fast stuff, so we missed the setup just a touch. But, we were making up for it in other spots.
“If we would have had some more green, I think I had a really good shot at it. My car was set up for the longer runs, and as the long runs came on, the car came alive.”
The cautions appeared to help keep Stearns and his Team MER/Dick’s Auto Salvage MX-5 close to the leaders, but he said he would have rather the race stayed green at the end.
“I think they may have hurt us a little bit,” said Stearns, who started ninth. “They allowed some of the guys to catch up a little and put some pressure on me. It made me drive in my mirrors a little bit. I liked the green flags because they were stretching out the field.”
Ara Malkhassian, of Houston, Texas, finished the 45-minute race fourth in his Alara Racing/Driver Source MX-5 after starting 13th; an improvement that earned him the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for advancing the most positions during the race.
Making his 2006 MX-5 Cup debut, John Kuitwaard, of Wantagh, N.Y., was fifth in his P1-Motorsports.com/HKF Racing Mazda MX-5, one spot ahead of P1 teammate Ben Hohn, of Easton, Conn., who was sixth.
Behind Buras’ 57 points and Daniels’ 55, Malkhassian is now third with 44 points, followed by Chip Herr, of Lititz, Pa. (34) and Mike Gatto, of Atlanta, Ga. (33), who was eighth Monday. Deborah Loth, of Fort Worth, Texas, finished seventh after starting 14th and is sixth with 32.
For complete MX-5 Cup post-race coverage from Lime Rock Park, including full results, visit www.mx-5cup.com.
For other information, including the upcoming third round of the 2006 SCCA Pro Racing SIRIUS Satellite Radio MX-5 Cup Presented by Hankook, part of the Mosport Father’s Day 200 weekend with CASCAR, visit www.mx-5cup.com.
Note: No. 13 Anders Hainer, of Hidden Hills, Calif., was a late withdrawal because of illness. He was slated second on the grid and as a result of his absence, all cars behind him were moved up one spot.
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