Nick Evans, of Powell, Ohio, represented the MAZDASPEED Driver Development Ladder well at Miller Motorsports Park, earning his first career-win in Round 10 of the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship. Teammate Jeff Mosing, of Powell, Ohio, and Lyonel Kent, of Knoxville, Tenn., completed the podium, the first of two for the series' doubleheader finale, part of the Utah 250 race weekend.
Starting from pole in the No. 28 Team MER/Mazda/Sparco MX-5 for the fourth time this season, Evans had plenty of competition heading into the first turn, with the field fanning out four-wide. The polesitter was able to capitalize on his competitors' mistakes and maintain the lead, but didn't learn from their example on the following lap.
"I was on the pole and, going into Turn 1, I think Brad [Rampelberg] got inside me, but then he slid wide and I just tried to out-brake him, because I really didn't want him to get ahead," Evans said. "I ended up getting back around him, led the first lap and then I made a similar bobble through Turn 1 that allowed Jesse Combs and Jeff Mosing to get by me. I was back to fourth for the next two or three laps, but fought my way back up to the lead. From that point on, I just tried to be consistent, run good laps and not take too many risks."
Retaking the lead on lap four with teammate Mosing in tow, Evans held his lead for the remainder of the 21-lap, 64.008-mile race, averaging 81.749mph.
Coming into Round 10 second on the list of drivers with the most laps led (33 laps), Evans was relieved to finally score his elusive first win, especially having earned his ride in MX-5 Cup via the MAZDASPEED Driver Development Ladder.
"This is awesome," beamed Evans. "I wish I could have scored this earlier in the season, but better late than never. I said in qualifying that I wanted to end the season with a bang. I did it today and hopefully I can do it again tomorrow."
After qualifying a career-high third in the No. 30 Team MER/Frank's Int./Race Now For Autism MX-5, Mosing was determined to outdo himself with a career-best performance in the race as well.
"Apparently the start didn't really matter because we were all piled up four-wide going into Turn 1," Mosing said. "It was pretty crazy and I was amazed there wasn't any contact going on.
"We were all trained-up for awhile and once Rampelberg and Jesse Combs started to tangle up with each other, it broke them away from me and I was able to start reeling in Nick just a bit. I decided we were going to go ahead and work together to try and keep a gap going and keep everybody behind us."
Though he remained close to his teammate throughout the race, Mosing was never in position to make an attempt for the lead. None the less, he was overjoyed to score his first podium finish.
"It's pretty amazing," Mosing said. "I've been working hard in these cars for about two years. I've never been frustrated and always enjoyed racing and was really happy with my performance. This year I've done some things to try and work harder at it and the results have been trickling in.
"I've been finishing in the top 10 all year, so I can't be upset about that, but I knew that eventually the results would come. I decided to be patient and keep working hard at it. Eric Foss and Jason Saini at Team MER have helped me a lot by picking at the data and looking at the video. We've been improving things little by little and, of course, I've got some of the best teammates to run with. They're about half my age, but I'm still trying to uphold the performance level the team expects."
Driving the No. 13 ALARA Racing/Bulldog Productions MX-5, Kent was also caught out in the opening-lap rush through Turn 1.
"I started fourth and the start was kind of crazy going into Turn 1," Kent said. "Starting on the outside is always tough, especially on these busy weekends because of the buildup on the outside line. There was just no grip out there. I got bumped, freight-trained and fell back to about 10th place I think. I was able to claw my way up working with my teammate Jesse Combs."
After an exciting battle with Brad Rampelberg for the final podium spot, which saw the two drivers exchange positions nearly half a dozen times (three times officially at the line), Kent was able to make it stick on lap 16 and hold it to the checkered flag.
"I got past my teammate and was chasing Brad Rampelberg," recalled Kent. "Brad and I had a good race together. We swapped the position several times and I somehow managed to hold him off.
"We had a great car. ALARA Racing and Bulldog Productions provided me with a great car. I couldn't do it without them. The BF Goodrich tires stayed in for the whole race and we were still clicking off fast laps to the end. We just couldn't catch the leaders."
One of Kent's fast laps, a 2:12.975 (82.517mph), was the quickest of the race. The time is a new race lap record for MX-5 Cup at Miller Motorsports Park, as the series is running the shorter 15-turn, 3.048-mile "Outer Loop" course for the first time this weekend.
After being demoted to fourth by Kent, Rampelberg endured another close fight with his Championship rival Justin Piscitell. When Piscitell was forced to focus his attention on a charging Jesse Combs, Rampelberg, of San Jose, Calif., was finally free to claim the fourth spot in his No. 4 AMG Racing/Mazda/Cobalt Brakes MX-5.
Piscitell, from Weston, Conn., was fifth in the No. 89 Team MER/DAMG Worldwide/Merchant Service MX-5. Combs, of Houston, Texas, crossed the line in sixth.
Russell Walker climbed seven positions in the race to finish seventh, followed by Michael Cooper, who took a spin in the final corner of the last lap.
Ara Malkhassian and Mark Carpenter completed the top 10.
With one race remaining, Rampelberg's points lead increases to 20 over Piscitell (535 to 515). Cooper remains third with 498 points, followed by Evans (476) and Combs (452).
Series rules allow each driver to drop the lowest point-scoring race from their final tally. With the excluded race, Rampelberg leads by 25 points over Piscitell (507 to 482), with Evans in third (476). Cooper is fourth with 470 points.
The final round of the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup will take place tomorrow, Sept. 12, at 2 p.m. (MDT). It will be preceded by a 30-minute qualifying session at 11:10 a.m. Live timing and lap notes for both will be available at www.mx-5cup.com.
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