MILLVILLE, N.J. (Sept. 28, 2008) – Robert Huffmaster, of Clarkston, Mich., captured his second MX-5 Cup victory on a damp, but drying Thunderbolt Raceway at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Teammates Eric Foss, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Ryan Schimsk, of Austin, Texas, completed the Team MER podium sweep for Round Seven of the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup.
Starting from his first MX-5 Cup pole, Huffmaster led the field into Turn One at the 14-turn, 2.17-mile course with teammate Foss in tow. The pair immediately worked together to pull a gap on then third-place Ara Malkhassian in the No. 11 Alara Racing MX-5. Behind them, Round Six winner Brad Rampelberg was on a charge, swiftly making his way past Malkhassian and erasing the MER teammates’ lead in a matter of three laps. Only one lap later, Rampelberg was around Foss for second place in Turn Seven.
For the next two laps, Rampelberg’s No. 14 Team MER/Mazda/Patron Tequila MX-5 filled the mirrors of Huffmaster’s No. 27 Team MER/Huffmaster Co. MX-5. On lap six, Rampelberg, who started fifth, pulled to the inside of Huffmaster at the end of the front straight, taking over the lead in Turn One.
“I sat on the pole and the start was clean through One,” Huffmaster said. “I led the first few laps and then Rampelberg was coming up behind us and worked his way past. Eric had an opportunity to pass me multiple times, but we’re looking at the big picture just to keep the team up there.
“[The track] was damp. It was better than practice, but off line it was damp and the car would just get a little out of control, so you just had to be on it.”
Rampelberg, Huffmaster and Foss continued to run nose-to-tail, until lap 11, when Foss bobbled. Remaining third, but losing the draft of the leaders, the race became a two-car fight between Rampelberg and Huffmaster.
Though Huffmaster had Rampelberg’s bumper covered, the Mosport race winner would not have to strategize long for a passing opportunity. On lap 15, Rampelberg’s gearbox began to falter, allowing Huffmaster to breeze past with ease entering Turn One. As Rampelberg continued to fall back, Huffmaster only needed to keep his No. 27 Team MER/Huffmaster Co. MX-5 on the track for the remainder of the 29-lap, 62.93-mile race to earn his second MX-5 Cup victory of the season by 2.301 seconds.
Huffmaster also earned the Hawk Hot Lap en route to leading Team MER to a podium sweep, clocking a 1:32.655 (84.312 mph) during the closing stages of the race.
“This is awesome,” Huffmaster smiled. “I think all year we’ve shown the capabilities. We just haven’t been able to [finish one-two-three]. It didn’t work out the way we thought it would, starting one-two-three we thought we could just pull out and get away, but it worked out, so it’s great.”
On lap 16, Foss caught the ailing Rampelberg and moved into second.
“Rob and I had a great start,” Foss said. “We were able to get away a little bit. About lap seven, I made a little mistake and lost the draft to Rob. I dropped back five or six seconds. Rob was up there driving a great race and I think wondering what I was doing behind him. We kind of got in a little battle at the end of the race as far as lap times. We were talking about it on the radio to see who could have the best lap time.”
The runner-up finish was Foss’ sixth podium finish of the season and further enhanced his lead in the Drivers’ Championship heading to the season finale, Oct. 17 – 19, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
“The Autobarn Mazda was just great this weekend. I have to thank my teammates for all their help. They’ve been great. Without them, I wouldn’t be in the position I am in the Championship this year. I think I basically just need to start at Laguna and that will pretty much seal the deal. Still have to make it one more round, so I’m not going to do anything crazy between now and then.”
Though he fell back early following a poor start, Schismk was able to keep his focus on the ever-changing course conditions and avoid the off-course excursions suffered by competitors ahead of him.
“I didn’t get the greatest start,” Schimsk said. “Turn One is very narrow and you have so many cars of equal pace running into that turn, I just got shuffled back. I did my best to put my head down and put my laps in. Several people made mistakes and I was able to move back up and that’s the name of the game. In slippery conditions like this, mistakes will cost you. I tried not to make mistakes and just drive my own race.”
Schimsk, too, was able to capitalize on Rampelberg’s gearbox woes, and claimed the final podium spot in the closing laps of the race. The spot completed a Team MER one-two-three finish, reinstating the trio’s qualifying order.
“I think this has been a long time coming,” added Schimsk. “We’ve had the speed all year long to have a one-two-three podium. We expected something like this to happen at some point. We all work well together.”
Stuck in fourth gear, Rampelberg was able to bring his car home in fourth, but was later disqualified when his car did not pass post-race technical inspection. The exclusion drops Rampelberg to sixth in the Driver’s Championship, which Foss now leads by 58 points over Buras. Huffmaster is now in third, only six points behind Buras.
Rampelberg’s disqualification moved Ara Malkhassian, of Sonoma, Calif., to fourth in the No. 11 Alara Racing MX-5 and Mark Jenkins to a career-high fifth in the No. 25 Team MER/Jenkins Bros/Traxxas MX-5.
He had a hard time keeping his MX-5 on course, but Buras ended the day sixth. Robert Michaelian, Randy Hale III, Brian Audet and Tim Probert completed the top 10.
Round Seven of the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup will air on DIRECTV, Dish Network and regional cable networks the week of Oct. 27. Check your local listings or the MX-5 Cup Web site for broadcast times. Following the initial broadcast the race will be posted on the MX-5 Cup YouTube channel, found at www.youtube.com/mazdamx5cup.
The MX-5 Cup season finale heads to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Oct. 17 – 19. For more information visit www.mx-5cup.com
MILLVILLE, N.J. - Results from Sunday's 29-lap, 62.93-mile SCCA Pro Racing Playboy MX-5 Cup Round Seven race at Thunderbolt Raceway, with finishing position, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car, laps, distance behind winner and reason out (if any).
1. (1), Robert Huffmaster, Clarkston, Mich., MX-5, 29.
2. (2), Eric Foss, Fort Worth, Texas, MX-5, 29, -2.301.
3. (3), Ryan Schimsk, Austin, Texas, MX-5, 29, -18.923.
4. (4), Ara Malkhassian, Sonoma, Calif., MX-5, 29, -56.878.
5. (9), Mark Jenkins, Fairview, Texas, MX-5, 29, -1:04.874.
6. (6), Todd Buras, Melbourne, Fla., MX-5, 29, -1:05.324.
7. (8), Robert Michaelian, Seal Beach, Calif., MX-5, 29, -1:24.949.
8. (10), Randy Hale III, Haddam, Conn., MX-5, 29, -1:26.366.
9. (12), Brian Audet, Alexandria, Va., MX-5, 29, -1:34.589.
10. (11), Tim Probert, Houston, Texas, MX-5, 29, -1:58.196.
11. (13), Brad Adams, New Orleans, La., MX-5, 28, -1 lap.
12. (14), Laura Olson, Costa Mesa, Calif., MX-5, 28, -1 lap.
13. (7), Mike Jenkins, Fairview, Texas, MX-5, 28, -1 lap.
14. (15), Alison Malkhassian, Sonoma, Calif., MX-5, 28, -1 lap.
DQ (5), Brad Rampelberg, San Jose, Calif., MX-5, 29, -23.357.
Time of race: 45 minutes, 42.563 seconds.
Average speed: 82.604 mph
Margin of victory: 2.301 Seconds
Lap leaders: Laps 1-29, #27 Robert Huffmaster
Hawk Hot Lap: #27 Robert Huffmaster, 1:32.655 (84.312 mph)
Fastest qualifier: #27 Robert Huffmaster, 1:32.001 (84.912 mph)
Notes: #14 Rampelberg disqualified for a non-compliant engine component
SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Drivers' Championship Standings After Seven of Eight races
Pos., Driver, Points (wins)
1, Eric Foss, 407 (2)
2, Todd Buras, 349
3, Robert Huffmaster, 345 (2)
4, Ryan Schimsk, 339 (1)
5, Ara Malkhassian, 324
6, Brad Rampelberg, 309 (2)
7, Robert Michaelian, 267
8, Christian Franck, 211
9, Deborah Loth, 210
10, Elivan Goulart, 202