TOOELE, Utah (Sept. 19, 2009)
- Todd Lamb, of Atlanta, Ga., took his seventh-consecutive SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup win in convincing fashion at Miller Motorsports Park. Marc Miller, of Holland, Mich., and Charles Espenlaub, of Lutz, Fla., completed the Round Eight podium.
Starting from the pole in his No. 84 AMG/Traqmate/Luna-C MX-5, Lamb held onto the lead as the field fanned out through Turn One. Though Nick Mancuso's No. 29 Team MER/Lake Forest Sports Cars/Tire Lyna MX-5 filled his mirrors for the opening lap, Lamb quickly settled into a groove, setting the fastest lap of the race, a 3:21.417 (80.180 mph) on lap two.
"I was able to run a steady pace throughout the whole race," Lamb said. "The first lap was pretty slow. We were feeling out the track and the car. Mancuso got a fantastic start. I don't know where he came from! I looked in my mirror and he was second. That was pretty impressive. From there, I just settled into a rhythm. The car was great, so I just made sure I was running clean and consistent laps."
As the battle for second through fifth raged behind him, Lamb continued to build a large lead around the 23-turn, 4.486-mile road course. Without a single full-course caution period, Lamb sped away from the field to take his seventh MX-5 Cup win in-a-row by 6.077 seconds, averaging 79.559 mph.
"The car is phenomenal," Lamb said. "It's got a great setup on it and we had a good race strategy. Starting on pole helps, but it's nice to have AMG prepping the car for me, because all I have to do is shoot the thing around the track and do my thing."
Starting second, Miller had a good run on Lamb as the two sped toward Turn One at the start, but a missed shift in the No. 28 Team MER/MOCA/Race Now for Autism/MMP MX-5 lost the Road Atlanta race winner several positions.
"I missed a shift going into Turn One and actually I did it a couple of times in the race," Miller said. "It really wanted to pop into second instead of fourth, which, going into Turn One, isn't very fun. It's a fourth-gear corner and it's really fast. Someone got into the back of me too. I'm sure they weren't expecting someone to slow as quickly as I did. I actually had a good start heading into Turn One, but then I fell all the way back to fifth. I just had to be patient and wait for an opportunity to work my way back up."
Working the draft and capitalizing on others' mistakes, Miller was already back up to third by lap three. For the next six laps, Miller hounded the No. 14 AMG MX-5 of Brad Rampelberg, searching for an opportunity to get by and give chase to Lamb. It wasn't until Espenlaub made his way into fourth, that the two were able to work together to draft past Rampelberg.
"[Rampelberg] was so strong down the front straightaway," recalled Miller. "I know I rolled through the center of the corner a lot better, but it was kind of tough to get a good run on him. When Charles [Espenlaub] came up, I was able to get a good draft and it made it easier to go to the inside of Brad in Turn One. From there, I just worked on running clean and waited for Todd [Lamb] to drive off the track, but that never happened."
Finally into the runner-up spot on lap eight, Miller wasn't optimistic about his chances of catching Lamb in what remained of the 14-lap, 62.804-mile race.
"With that large of a gap it would have been really difficult," Miller said. "We were all really close to Todd for the first couple of laps and when Brad got into second it just seemed like the spread kept growing and growing and I just couldn't get around [Rampelberg]. It was really frustrating. Once we got around him, the gap equalized a little bit. Todd says he's running nine-tenths, but I don't know how he's doing it if I'm running eleven-tenths!"
The runner-up finish was Miller's sixth of the 2009 season. A winner at the Road Atlanta season opener, Miller remains the only other driver to win a 2009 MX-5 Cup race besides Lamb.
Making a guest appearance in MX-5 Cup, Espenlaub, who regularly competes in the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championship behind the wheel of a MAZDA6, brought the No. 73 Hale Motorsports/Patron Tequila MX-5 home in third. Starting fourth, Espenlaub initially fell back to 11th, after missing a shift on the start like Miller.
"I missed a shift on the start and got bumped around a little bit," Espenlaub said. "We went into Turn One and there was stuff going on all over the place and I was just trying to stay out of trouble, but I think I actually got myself into more trouble."
After charging his way up to fourth by lap eight and working with Miller to move into third the following lap, Espenlaub spent the rest of his race holding off Rampelberg before claiming the final podium spot.
"Brad raced me clean," Espenlaub recalled. "He had a couple runs on me here and there. The Hale Motorsports guys did a great job with my MX-5 and it just sort of came into its own there at the end. It became better than it had been, so I was able to hold Brad off, otherwise I probably wouldn't have been able to."
Returning to MX-5 Cup for the first time since the 2008 season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, defending Miller Motorsports Park race winner Rampelberg, of San Jose, Calif., crossed the finish line in fourth.
Though Mancuso, of Mettawa, Ill., had a remarkable start, picking up five positions and moving into second after Turn One, he was shuffled back to fifth by the race's end.
Mark Jenkins advanced two spots from his grid position to finish sixth. He was followed by Justin Piscitell in seventh.
Lyonel Kent, Ara Malkhassian and Stan Wilson completed the top 10.
Finishing 16th, Randy Hale, of Haddam, Conn., earned the Carbotech Hard Charger Award for advancing four positions in the race.
With two races remaining, Lamb now leads the MX-5 Cup Championship by 15 points over Miller (447 to 432). Piscitell is third with 412 points, followed by Zach Ply (351) and Stan Wilson (339).
The 2009 SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup season concludes with a doubleheader at VIRginia International Raceway, Oct. 2 - 4. Live timing and scoring, news and notes will be available at www.mx-5cup.com