MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 20, 2008) – Christian Franck, of Simi Valley, Calif., survived a thrilling SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to earn his first-ever race win. Todd Buras, of Melbourne, Fla., and Robert Huffmaster, of Clarkston, Mich., completed the podium. Finishing fourth, Eric Foss, of Fort Worth, Texas, claimed the 2008 Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship.
Franck’s wild ride began on the start, as he immediately shot past Huffmaster for fourth and found himself at the tail end of a four-car battle for the lead. Ahead of Franck, polesitter Foss was doing his best to hold off Brad Rampelberg and Buras. The constant side-by-side action in front of him allowed Franck to pick his spots, motoring past Buras on lap five and stealing second from Rampelberg a lap later.
After a quick back-and-forth with Rampelberg’s No. 14 Hooverspeed/Mazda MX-5, Franck’s radar was set on then-leader Foss. While in pursuit of the No. 28 Team MER/Autobarn Mazda MX-5, Franck set the Hawk Hot Lap of the race, turning a 1:41.731 (79.197 mph) on lap 10, a new race lap record.
On lap 12, Franck made his move, pulling alongside Foss in Turn Two, but Foss had the right line for Turn Three and held his lead. Foss couldn’t hold off Franck’s No. 16 Alara Racing MX-5 in Turn Five though, where Franck took a solid hold on the race lead for the first time.
“I got a pretty good start,” Franck said. “I moved up to fourth right away. I just sat there and tried to be patient and let everything work itself out for a few laps. I ended up just waiting and waiting and I finally got the lead.”
His mirrors filled with Rampelberg’s nose for three-consecutive laps straight, Franck would eventually make a mistake, sliding off course briefly at Turn 11 and falling to third behind Rampelberg and Foss.
Winning a race often involves a bit of luck, and that’s exactly what came Franck’s way shortly after his off. Not only did Foss spin in the Corkscrew on the following lap putting Franck in second, but a full-course caution came out on lap 18 for the No. 23 Team MER/Loth Endodontics MX-5, which had spun into the gravel at Turn Three.
On the lap 21 restart, Franck grabbed the lead from Rampelberg in Turn Five, only to have Rampelberg pull the same move on the following lap to retake the spot.
“I was very happy to see the caution,” Franck said with a smile. “I was just a little worried about Todd Buras behind me. I figured he’d try to pass, but I was able to get by Rampelberg.”
Race officials had taken issue with contact Rampelberg made with Franck in-between the lead exchange, and as the pair crossed the start-finish line to begin lap 24 of the 25-lap, 55.95-mile race, a black flag was displayed for Rampelberg.
While the white flag waved for Franck, Rampelberg hit pit lane. Keeping his focus, Franck carefully navigated the final 2.238 miles of the 11-turn course and crossed the finish line 1.269 seconds ahead of Buras. Seventeen year-old Franck became the fifth different winner of the 2008 MX-5 Cup season.
“I thought I threw it away in Turn 11,” recalled Franck. “I just had a little hiccup, but I picked it back up because of the full-course caution and here I am now, the winner. I kept telling myself to keep calm and keep consistent and not worry about the guys behind me.
“After missing the last two races, I wanted to get a podium finish and I’m very happy to take the win.”
Though he finished second in the No. 56 pancreaticcure.org MX-5 Cup, Buras spend much of the race fighting for the third and fourth, which gave him one of the best seats in the house.
“The racing was unbelievable in front of me,” Buras said. “I had a great view of the racing. It’s going to make for great TV.”
The full-course yellow was just as beneficial for Buras as it was for Franck.
“It was fantastic to see the yellow come out. Early in the race, I couldn’t get the car into a gear. I tried several gears and it just wouldn’t do anything and then, all of a sudden, it just went into third. I’ve never had that happen.”
The only driver with a mathematical shot at beating Foss for the Championship, Buras needed to win at Mazda Raceway coupled with a Foss DNF to overtake him. When Buras witnessed Foss’ spin in the Corkscrew, which handed him third on lap 17, he began to wonder if the Title was still a possibility.
“When I saw Eric spin in the corkscrew, I thought ‘I wonder where we are in the points right now? Maybe he’ll get stuck in the gravel or blow up a tranny or something.’ If he would have fallen out, then I probably would have tried a little harder for the first place finish. But, it didn’t happen. Eric’s done a great job all year. So, for me, it was second place again.”
After dropping a spot to Franck on the start, Huffmaster began a lengthy battle with Eric Curran’s No. 30 Hale Motorsports/Whelen Motorsports MX-5 for the fifth position.
“Eric Curran and I were running about the same pace,” Huffmaster said. “We had a little battle—a little contact. I talked to him after the race and know he didn’t do anything intentionally. It was a little frustrating at the moment but we got through it and we’re okay. We had a good battle later on in the race too. It was a lot of fun.
“The full course yellow was a huge, huge break,” Huffmaster added. “I knew Todd was right up there and we’re fighting for second in points. I figured it would give me a shot at him at least to try to pass him and maybe pick up the runner-up position.”
Passing Foss shortly after the restart and picking up an additional spot when Rampelberg hit pit lane for his penalty, Huffmaster’s No. 27 Team MER/Huffmaster Co. MX-5 took the checkered flag in third, which is also where we ended the season in the point standings.
Foss may have just missed the podium, despite leading the first 11 laps, but a fourth-place finish was enough to secure the 2008 SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Foss, who also won the SCCA Spec Miata Championship last week at the Runoffs® said. “It’s been an amazing week. Team MER and Autobarn Mazda have just been great all year. I can’t than them enough. My teammates are just awesome. They helped me all year long.
“I was pushing really hard early. I really wanted to win here. I thought it would be a great way to cap off the year. But, I made a couple mistakes. The car was great, but I probably pushed too hard. Later in the race, I changed my mentality a little bit to be safe with the Championship in mind.”
As the 2008 MX-5 Cup Champion, Foss has earned himself an SCCA Pro Racing SPEED Touring Car ride with Mazda next season.
“This is an amazing opportunity, to be able to race here and win the Championship and everything that it brings,” Foss beemed.
Buras trailed Foss by 56 points in the final Championship standings (462 to 406). Huffmaster was third with 399 points, followed by Ryan Schimsk (308 points) and Ara Malkhassian (371 points).
SCCA SPEED GT driver Curran, of East Hampton, Mass., finished his first MX-5 Cup race fifth. He was followed across the line by Californian Ara Malkhassina, from Sonoma.
Mark Jenkins and Brad McAllister were seventh and eighth, respectively.
Ryan Schimsk recovered from an early run-in with the Turn Eight wall to finish ninth.
Barry Fromberg completed the top 10.
The SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup finale will air on DirecTV, Dish Network and regional cable sports networks the week of November 10. Check www.mx-5cup.com for broadcast times as well as full results from the 2008 season.
MONTEREY, Calif. - Results from Sunday's 25-lap, 55.95-mile SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Round Eight race, part of the 2008 Monterey Sports Car Championship Presented by Patron at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with finishing position, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car, laps and reason out (if any).
1. (5), Christian Franck, Simi Valley, Calif., MX-5, 25.
2. (2), Todd Buras, Melbourne, Fla., MX-5, 25, -1.269.
3. (4), Robert Huffmaster, Clarkston, Mich., MX-5, 25, -1.595.
4. (1), Eric Foss, Fort Worth, Texas, MX-5, 25, -2.072.
5. (9), Eric Curran, E. Hampton, Mass., MX-5, 25, -2.807.
6. (7), Ara Malkhassian, Sonoma, Calif., MX-5, 25, -3.532.
7. (8), Mark Jenkins, Fairview, Texas, MX-5, 25, -4.205.
8. (13), Brad McAllister, Portland, Ore., MX-5, 25, -5.340.
9. (3), Ryan Schimsk, Austin, Texas, MX-5, 25, -9.539.
10. (14), Barry Fromberg, Plano, Texas, MX-5, 25, -16.991.
11. (15), Harrison Williams, Houston, Texas, MX-5, 25, -15.545.
12. (21), James Rhoades, Dallas, Texas, MX-5, 25, -17.701.
13. (19), Donald Barnes, Chapel Hill, N.C., MX-5, 25, -16.217.
14. (24), Tim Probert, Houston, Texas, MX-5, 25, -21.730.
15. (26), Randy Hale_III, Haddam, Conn., MX-5, 25, -22.797.
16. (17), Steve Bottom, Newport Beach, Calif., MX-5, 25, -24.309.
17. (23), Laura Olson, Costa Mesa, Calif., MX-5, 25, -24.913.
18. (20), Christopher Rhoades, Dallas, Texas, MX-5, 25, -22.006.
19. (22), Brad Adams, New Orleans, La., MX-5, 25, -26.688.
20. (27), Sonny Whelen, Old Saybrook, Conn., MX-5, 25, -34.379.
21. (18), Forest Barber, Fort Worth, Texas, MX-5, 25, -26.105.
22. (16), Alison Malkhassian, Sonoma, Calif., MX-5, 25, -37.610.
23. (6), Brad Rampelberg, San Jose, Calif., MX-5, 24, -1 lap.
24. (10), Bobby Carter, Brentwood, Calif., MX-5, 22, -3 laps.
25. (25), Kim Ouye, Montery, Calif., MX-5, 22, -3 laps.
26. (12), Deborah Loth, Fort Worth, Texas, MX-5, 19, Crash.
27. (29), Kenny Kun Yin, Los Angeles, Calif., MX-5, 24, -1 lap.
28. (28), Carlos Tesler-Mabe, Vancouver, British Columbia, MX-5, 0, Crash.
29. (11), Robert Michaelian, Seal Beach, Calif., MX-5, 25, -6.578.
Time of race: 45 minutes, 0.115 seconds.
Average speed: 74.596 mph
Margin of victory: 1.269 Seconds
Lap leaders: Laps 1-11, #28 Eric Foss; laps 12-15, #16 Christian Franck; laps 16-20, #14 Brad Rampelberg; laps 21-21, #16 Christian Franck; laps 22-22, #14 Brad Rampelberg; laps 23-25, #16 Christian Franck
Hawk Hot Lap: #16 Christian Franck, 1:41.731 (79.197 mph)
Fastest qualifier: #28 Eric Foss, 1:41.184 (79.625 mph)
Cautions: One caution for three laps
#19 Disqualified, Underweight
#00 2 position penalty - Pass Under yellow
#06 3 Position penalty, 2 race probation - Avoidable contact
#24 2 Position penalty - Pass Under yellow
#29 3 Position penalty - Avoidable contact
#59 3 position penalty - Avoidable contact
Final SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Point Standings
Pos., Driver, Points (Wins)
1, Eric Foss, 462 (2)
2, Todd Buras, 406
3, Robert Huffmaster, 399 (2)
4, Ryan Schimsk, 379 (1)
5, Ara Malkhassian, 371
6, Brad Rampelberg, 329 (2)
7, Christian Franck, 273 (1)
8, Robert Michaelian, 267
9, Randy Hale III, 228
10, Harrison Williams, 228
Note: Tie for ninth broken by highest race finish