Polesitter Stevan McAleer, of Putnam Valley, N.Y., conquered his first-ever standing start and led the full distance to the checkered flag to score the win in the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy MX-5 Cup opener at Sebring International Raceway, part of the 60th Anniversary Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida. CJ Wilson Racing teammate Eliott Skeer, of Vista, Calif., and Sebring's John Dean completed the podium.
While all three top-finishers were making their professional debuts, McAleer led away from the start in the No. 28 Children's Charities/Blue Mercury Capital/RUfocused.com/Sambo Website Design Mazda MX-5 with his teammate in tow. The two used the draft and a drive through penalty from third-starting Lyonel Kent's No. 12 ALARA Racing MX-5 to pull away from the field in the 30-minute timed race.
McAleer ticked off the laps, pulling a three-second gap on Skeer's No. 17 MAZDASPEED/Sparco/Pelican Windows & Remodeling MX-5 by the midway point of the race. From there, the new Championship point leader opened up a 5.538-second margin of victory by the conclusion of the 12-lap, 44.4-mile race. McAleer also ran the fastest lap of the race in 2:31.568 (87.881 mph) around the 3.7-mile circuit.
”I think my main concern there was I knew I had the speed, I was just a little worried about the start and getting the car off the line,” McAleer said. “Especially with us being so close to turn one, I knew all the cars were going to be flat through there. I managed to do an ok start. They caught me a little bit and I just got my head down and started working. Elliott was helping out and we managed to pull a gap to the third place car. I just started to keep away a little bit from him myself. No mistakes in the first race of the year, I just wanted to make sure we bring the car home and it's a super result for the team.
“It puts more [pressure] on because now they're coming for me.”
Skeer's runner-up finish was also a successful launch for the MAZDASPEED Ladder Shootout winner for 2012.
“I feel like overall this weekend has been great so far,” Skeer said of his debut. “A couple ups and downs here and there, but I feel like for my first professional race it was really good, just consistent and keeping it clean. The car was starting to go away a little bit early on and I was trying to manage that throughout. By the end of it, I was starting to figure out how to manage it. So I feel like I learned a lot in that aspect to carry me on later this season.”
Dean was also making his professional racing debut at his hometown track, but had to start at the rear of the MX-5 Cup field after a post-qualifying technical infraction disallowed the time of his No. 16 Projections Research/Sick Sideways and teammate Christian Szymczak's No. 34 Projections Research/Sick Sideways machine.
The pair, along with Dean Copeland's No. 7 Sync Speed Inc MX-5 – starting from the rear after a broken hub on the opening lap of qualifying left him without a time – made their way through the field nose-to-tail, joining the battle for third place by lap four.
The trio increased an already a three-way battle to six cars for the final podium spot, joining Ara Malkhassian (No. 11 ALARA Racing MX-5), Dan Bender (No. 06 Atlanta Motorsports Group MX-5) and Nathan Sparks (No. 3 OOTSK Performance MX-5) in a heated scrum.
All six drivers held the third position, at least briefly, before Dean opened a gap too late to chase down Skeer for second-place.
“It's a real special race for us,” Dean said. “We're a local team, and we're a new team. We just opened our doors a year ago and Projections Research came on. Without them we financially wouldn't be able to be here.
“We had a lot of work to get up to the front starting 19th and 20th. Christian was coming with me and he ended up getting tangled up in the middle of the race. I had to work really hard to try to gap Dean [Copeland] back there. He was trying to get in the draft to stay with me.
“It was a battle. We came into the hairpin four-wide, I had the right side tires near the grass on the right. I could just barely squeeze the car through there and I think we got through there without contact. It was a lot of fun.”
Copeland found some breathing room on the pavement behind Dean to come home in fourth, with Szymczak moving past Malkhassian on the final lap to complete the top five.
Bender, Sparks, Kent, and Richard Picut in the No. 6 LIQUFLOW MX-5 brought home top-10 finishes.
Dennis Trebing, of Cape Coral, Fla., drove the No. 66 Trebing Tile/Uwe Alden Automotive MX-5 to the win in the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Series, running concurrently with the Playboy MX-5 Cup. David Knight and Zachry Lee completed the podium.
The Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Round Two race is scheduled for noon on Friday at Sebring, after an 8 a.m. qualifying session.
More information is available at www.mx-5cup.com.
Follow the Playboy MX-5 Cup on Twitter @MazdaMX5Cup.
SEBRING, Fla. – Results from Thursday's 12-lap, 44.4-mile SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Round 1 race, part of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway, with finishing position, class, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car, laps and reason out (if any).
1. MX, (1), Stevan McAleer(R), Puntam Valley, N.Y., MX-5, 12.
2. MX, (2), Elliott Skeer(R), Vista, Calif., MX-5, 12, -5.538.
3. MX, (20), John Dean_II(R), Sebring, Fla., MX-5, 12, -14.302.
4. MX, (18), Dean Copeland, Bowie, Md., MX-5, 12, -20.580.
5. MX, (19), Christian Szymczak(R), Palos Verdes, Calif., MX-5, 12, -23.048.
6. MX, (6), Ara Malkhassian, Houston, Texas, MX-5, 12, -23.633.
7. MX, (7), Dan Bender, Glencoe, Ill., SBMX-5, 12, -29.012.
8. MX, (4), Nathanial Sparks(R), Spanish Fort, Ala., MX-5, 12, -29.081.
9. MX, (3), Lyonel Kent, Powell, Ky., MX-5, 12, -45.821.
10. MX, (8), Richard Picut, Garwood, N.J., MX-5, 12, -46.483.
11. MX, (13), Alfred Ciaola, New York, N.Y., MX-5, 12, -49.680.
12. MX, (11), Tim Probert, Houston, Texas, MX-5, 12, -1:02.064.
13. MX, (12), Brent Mosing(R), Lafayette, La., MX-5, 12, -1:02.410.
14. MX, (16), Thomas Neel(R), Madison, Ala., MX-5, 12, -1:16.976.
15. MX, (9), Charles Paquin, Ottawa, Ontario, MX-5, 12, -1:19.245.
16. MX, (10), Harrison Williams, Houston, Texas, MX-5, 12, -1:25.645.
17. MX, (15), Beth Chryst, Herndon, Va., MX-5, 12, -1:35.518.
18. MX, (14), Christian Tetzlaff, Athens, Ga., MX-5, 12, -1:55.368.
19. MX, (17), Emilee Tominovich(R), Clarksville, Md., MX-5, 12, -2:08.147.
20. MX, (5), Chad McCumbee, Supply, N.C., MX-5, 0, Mech.
21. SBMX, (21), Dennis Trebing, Cape Coral, Fla., Barber MX-5, 12, -37.238.
22. SBMX, (23), David Knight, Ludlow, Vt., Barber MX-5, 12, -1:03.088.
23. SBMX, (22), Zachry Lee, San Antonio, Texas, Barber MX-5, 12, -1:03.513.
24. SBMX, (24), Dan Moen, Wilbraham, Mass., Barber MX-5, 12, -1:06.301.
25. SBMX, (26), Maurizio Scala, , , Barber MX-5, 12, -1:33.617.
26. SBMX, (25), Bryan Hixon, San Antonio, Texas, Barber MX-5, 12, -1:33.629.
27. SBMX, (29), Douglas Brown, Wilmington, Mass., Barber MX-5, 12, -2:16.214.
28. SBMX, (28), Paul Minichiello_Jr, Amesbury, Mass., Barber MX-5, 12, -2:28.757.
29. SBMX, (27), Javier Ripoll, Doral, Fla., Barber MX-5, 8, Mech.
Time of race: 30 minutes, 26.636 seconds.
Average speed: 87.505 mph
Margin of victory: 5.538 Seconds
Lap leaders: Laps 1-12, #28 Stevan MCAleer(R)
Fastest race lap: #28 Stevan MCAleer(R), 2:31.568 (87.881 mph)
Fastest qualifier: #28 Stevan MCAleer(R), 2:30.796 (88.331 mph)
Image: Stevan McAleer won the season opener at Sebring from the pole.
Credit: Mark Weber/SCCA