MONTEREY, Calif. (May 7, 2006) – After starting on the pole at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Chip Herr, of Lititz, Pa., lost his early advantage, recovered and then held off BSI Racing teammate Todd Buras at the finish to win the inaugural SCCA Pro Racing SIRIUS Satellite Radio Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by Hankook race by 0.107-sec. in his No. 59 Sports Car Revolution/Mazdaspeed Mazda MX-5. Drew Staveley, of Walnut, Calif., finished third.-30-
After Herr and second-starting Jim Daniels, of Germantown, Tenn. (specmiata.com/Team MER MX-5), cleared the first turns, Erik Stearns, of Van Buren, Ohio, went off course at Turn Three with contact-induced damage to the front of his Team MER/Dick’s Auto Salvage MX-5.
In a separate incident two turns later, third starting Jason Saini, of Fort Worth, Texas (No. 28 specmiata.com/Autobarn Mazda MX-5), spun into the gravel at Turn Five, which appeared to happen after he came together with the No. 11 Alara Racing/Driver Source MX-5, driven by Houston’s Ara Malkhassian.
The combination of the two incidents brought out the 25-lap race’s only full-course caution, but not before Daniels overtook Herr for the lead.
After racing resumed on lap four, a group of six MX-5s battled for the lead, with Herr regaining the point, followed by Malkhassian and Daniels. Malkhassian then moved into the top spot on lap five, but just as quickly gave up his lead to Staveley’s No. 2 ajsracing.com MX-5 before lap six.
Daniels then took his second tour at the top on the seventh lap, holding off the field until Malkhassian dove to his inside at Turn Five on lap 11 and took over the lead. Herr also jumped ahead of Daniels and a battle between Herr and Malkhassian ensued.
As the leaders exited turn 10 that same lap, Malkhassian appeared to get loose and Herr made light contact. Malkhassian’s car spun back to ninth, and he would later battle back to finish seventh.
From there, Herr led the final portion of the race to claim the series’ first victory.
“We came through Turn Nine or Ten, in the bowl, and [Malkhassian] came in a little hot,” Herr said. “The car was loose going in, and we thought he had it saved. I think he tried to keep his foot in it. I had Todd right behind, ready to push me because we were full throttle.
“As soon as I knew he was really loose, I hit the brakes and turned left to go into the dirt” Herr continued. “As soon as it happened, I got on the radio and said ‘I didn’t mean to do that.’ Unfortunately, when you race that close, things like that happen. I probably don’t have a mark on my car from the contact.”
Herr then acknowledged that the early part of his race was also anything but clean.
“The first couple of laps, the car was loose,” Herr said. “I ended up getting the lead back, and then went off by myself at Turn Six. It wasn’t anybody’s fault but my own. I fell back to sixth and had to refocus my thoughts. Then I just had to start clicking off good laps.”
Buras’ Sunday drive was arguably the best of the 21-car field as he made his way through the field to battle for the lead after starting shotgun on the field owning to an accident in the opening corners of qualifying. His large jump came early as he made his way up to ninth prior to the caution.
“We went into Turn One, and I saw four cars going four wide,” Buras said. “I went into the dirt, got my nose in there and right on the first lap ‘Bam!’ my toe goes about three millimeters out, and my steering wheel is cocked about 10 or 15 degrees. Then I thought ‘man, this is going to be a fun race.’
“That first yellow came out, and I think I was ninth. I passed a bunch of cars, and after the restart, the car was good and I just took my time. I just tried to be smooth with what I had.”
Though he led for a short portion of the race on lap six, Staveley’s advantage was short-lived as he went a bit wide through the corkscrew portion of the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course, allowing Daniels by.
A later battle with Daniels ensued, with contact in the corkscrew that would send Daniels back out of the top five and leave Staveley to run for the final spot on the podium.
“Jim was sliding a little bit more than I was,” Staveley said. “I was kind of waiting because I knew I didn’t have the pace for the top two guys. I was just waiting on my time, and [Jim] made a few mistakes. That allowed me to get up with him going into the corkscrew.
“We both went in really deep, and unfortunately there was a little bit of contact. It was just one of those things. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but it did.”
After the race, Staveley was assessed a six-point penalty in the Drivers’ Championship for driver conduct.
Larry Webster, of Ann Arbor, Mich., moved up from 10th to finish fourth in his No. 19 ART/Mazda/Hankook MX-5, and Pratt Cole, of Salt Lake City, Utah, was fifth in his No. 88 Western Companies MX-5 after starting the race 13th.
In addition to taking the top two spots on the podium, BSI Racing swept the awards as well, with Herr turning a 1:44.281 (77.260 mph) on Lap 10 - the Hawk Hot Lap of the race, and Buras winning the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for advancing the most positions from his qualifying spot.
With the inaugural event in the books, the SCCA Pro Racing SIRIUS Satellite Radio Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by Hankook heads to Lime Rock Park, in Lakeville, Conn., for Round Two, May 29.
For complete wrap-up coverage of the MX-5 Cup race from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, including race notes, full results plus future MX-5 Cup event information, visit www.mx-5cup.com.
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