BOWMANVILLE, Ont. CANADA (May 18, 2008) – Robert Huffmaster, of Clarkston, Mich., put on a rain racing clinic at Mosport International Raceway en route to his first SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup win. Polesitter Eric Foss, of Fort Worth, Texas, finished second and Brett Smrz, of Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, completed the podium for Round Two of the series, part of Victoria Day Speedfest.
Unlike Round One at Road Atlanta, setup was not a guessing game for the MX-5 Cup field, as a steady rain had been falling across the 2.459-mile circuit for nearly an hour and worsened as the cars made their way to pre-grid.
Huffmaster, who had qualified fourth in the No. 27 Team MER/Huffmaster Co. MX-5, picked up a position before the race even started when the No. 81 Team MER/Airco Mechanical MX-5 of Ryan Schimsk, from Austin, Texas, was late to pre-grid, moving Huffmaster up to third as the field took to the track. When the green flag waved, Huffmaster did his best to make it through Turn One unscathed, but nearly ended his race early.
“I was starting third, so I was on the inside, and I didn’t want to be that guy that goes into Turn One and takes people out, so I tried to back off early, but it was not enough,” Huffmaster said. “I got all crossed up and starting sliding. I slid right off the track and got about halfway through the gravel, but I didn’t want to get stuck there, so I got back in the throttle. I got back to the edge of the gravel and back on the track, but by that point almost the whole field was by.”
Despite having little rain racing experience to draw from, Huffmaster put his head down and made a miraculous charge through the field, catching then leader Foss on lap eight and pulling out an astonishing 33.316-second lead by the time the checkered flag flew on lap 21.
“After Turn One I thought my goal was to get a top-10 and salvage some points out of this, but as the laps when by I kept closing in on people and passing people. I can’t explain what happened really, it just happened. I’ve had one race in the rain and that was at the Runoffs last year [where he won the SCCA Touring 3 Championship]. It rained in the first half and dried out the second half. I still don’t like it, but I’m happy with the results.”
He may not like it, but Huffmaster may have uncovered a hidden talent in rain racing as he not only won the 51.639-mile race and led the most laps, but also collected the Hawk Hot Lap for turning the fastest lap of the race, a 2:01.771 (72.697 mph).
Despite having a large lead early in the race, Foss was happy to watch his teammate sail to victory, while collecting valuable points in the No. 28 Team MER/Autobarn Mazda/Brooke Co. MX-5.
“The start was great,” Foss said. “There was a lot of mayhem behind me and when I got to Turn Two I looked back and thought ‘Wow, I’ve got a pretty good lead.’ After I settled in I paced out a pretty good gap. I saw Rob coming and started asking how it was panning out for third and fourth. At this point in the Championship, I was really ready to settle for a second. I wasn’t going to challenge him. I don’t know if I had anything for him to be honest, but I wasn’t going to try, because I’d rather have second than a DNF.
“The track was getting worse as the race went on. There were some visibility issues. I probably didn’t prep my visor well enough. I was having to wipe it inside and out on the straighaways, which made it a little more challenging. The Team MER MX-5 felt great though and the Kumho rain tires worked really well. It was a lot of fun actually.”
Equally as impressive as Huffmaster’s run through the field for the win, was the race of Smrz in the No. 6 Alara/Smrz Racing MX-5. After tipping the scale a few pounds light in post-qualifying technical inspection, Smrz was forced to start from the back of the grid in 22nd position, but made an inspired run through the field to finish third.
“I think after the first lap I ended up in 10th place,” Smrz said. “I got lucky, because I found a gap in Turn One and I went for it. Then I saw a bunch of cars go off the track, so it became a big open hole and my setup was working awesome.
“I’ve never raced in the rain in these cars or on these tires before, so it was quite an experience. I was learning a lot as I went along. I was talking to my dad on the radio to see how I was doing position wise. When he told me I was seventh place on lap five I said ‘no way!’ It was quite a shock”
Rather than lament what might have been, the 17 year-old who had a portion of his left leg amputated more than a year ago and has been racing with a prosthesis ever since, saw the glass as half full.
“It was very disappointing to be sent to the back of the grid, but now that I think about it, we really only had a second-place car, because Huffmaster was absolutely flawless. I guess it feels even better being second starting from last place, so I can look at it that way.”
SCCA Spec Miata National Champion Brad Rampelberg, of San Jose, Calif., was another driver who demonstrated his strong rain racing capabilities. The No. 14 Hooverspeed/Mazda MX-5 pilot qualified 10th, but ended the day with fourth place after a spirited battle with the No. 56 Hooverspeed/Pancreaticcure.org MX-5 of Todd Buras, from Melbourne, Fla. Buras would cross the line in fifth.
Starting 13th, Steve Welk was up to third by lap two, but was shuffled back to sixth by the race’s end. Anders Hainer nearly had a fourth-place finish in the bag, before a passing attempt on the final lap resulted in a spin, dropping Hainer back to seventh. Neal Sapp, Elivan Goulart and Robert Michaelian completed the top ten.
The MX-5 Cup teams will have more than a month to dry off with Round Three not taking place until July 25 – 27 at Portland International Raceway.
For all the latest news, results and photos from SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup, visit www.mx-5cup.com.