Brad Rampelberg, of San Jose, Calif., earned a wild SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup win Sunday at Mosport International Raceway, part of the Mobil 1 Grand Prix of Mosport, in a battle with Lyonel Kent, of Knoxville, Tenn., and Russell Walker, of Dallas, Texas, that wasn't decided until the final corner.
At the finish of the 28-lap, 68.852-mile race that averaged 90.361 mph flag-to-flag, Rampelberg had grabbed a 0.255-second victory, his fifth of the season in the No. 4 AMG Racing/Mazda/Cobalt Brakes Mazda MX-5. The path to the checkered flag in round nine of 11 in the season, however, was anything but pretty.
Rampelberg, who entered the weekend third in the championship and locked in a season-long fight with leader Justin Piscitell and teammate Michael Cooper, had struggled through the practice and qualifying sessions early in the weekend at the 10-turn, 2.459-mile circuit east of Toronto.
"Mosport is an old-school track," Rampelberg said at the finish. "I've raced here before, and I have to be honest, this track is faster than I am. It's a great win here - there are a few classic tracks in North America, and winning at Road America and winning at Mosport is just amazing. You don't get much better than that."
While Rampelberg fell from his seventh starting spot to ninth on the first lap, polesitter Nick Evans, in the No. 28 Team MER/Mazda/Sparco Mazda MX-5, and Cooper, in the No. 84 AMG Racing/Bromante Landscaping & Design MX-5, set the pace up front.
By lap two, Piscitell, who had started sixth in the No. 89 Team MER/DAMG Worldwide/Merchant Services MX-5, had joined the two leaders up front. Trying to slip past Cooper for third through the left-hand turn nine, Piscitell nosed ahead of Cooper. The two made contact, moving Piscitell off the racing surface at the entrance of turn 10 and into the tire barrier.
The contact moved both racers to the end of the field, with Piscitell suffering the heaviest damage. He would finish 13th, eight laps down. Cooper finished 11th.
Cooper was penalized 10 points and placed on two-race probation for his role in the incident.
Back at the front, Evans led a six-car breakaway for the lead that became a five-car train on lap eight when Jesse Combs lost control of his No. 77 ALARA Racing/coolgas.com MX-5 and made contact with the tire barriers, also in the final turn. Combs would rejoin the race, but a trip down pit lane to check the damage left him running 12th at the finish.
Evans continued to lead through lap 13, but transmission troubles relegated the driver who had topped both practice and qualifying to a sixth-place finish.
Ara Malkhassian, driving the No. 11 ALARA Racing/Bulldog Productions MX-5, took the point on lap 14, and then relinquished the lead to Rampelberg on lap 15. After turning the race's fastest lap of 1:36.711 (91.534 mph), Malkhassian fell off the pace, leaving Rampelberg, Walker and Kent to battle for the lead.
Rampelberg led the final 13 laps, with Kent and Russell swapping the second position on lap 22. On the final lap, Kent actually moved into the lead through turn seven, but the right hand final turns left Rampelberg on the inside and just ahead at the finish line.
"Nick Evans and Michael Cooper were the two guys to beat this weekend, and I was just hoping to be a part of that train," Rampelberg said. "I had to race smart, and there was a bunch of attrition. The AMG guys gave me a great car, and I'm just happy to be here. I got raced really clean by Russell Walker and Lyonel Kent at the end, and it was another great racing finish. I don't like to work this hard, but we needed this win."
For Kent, it was his best finish since a win at Road Atlanta in round two.
"I had my work cut out for me today, starting back in eighth," Kent said. "ALARA Racing gave me a good car. The qualifying strategy didn't work out the way we had planned. The first couple of laps were pretty crazy, and I just wanted to keep my nose clean and make sure the Bulldog Productions car was there at the end. That's what paid off was patience, and I slowly picked cars off one-by-one.
"It came down to Brad, Russell and myself. I got a good draft on Brad coming down the back straight and we went side-by-side through eight, nine and 10. It was a close race and it's great to be back on the podium."
Walker's third-place finish was by far his best of the season in MX-5 Cup. Driving a partial schedule, Walker had yet to finish in the top-10 in four previous races but qualified third and was able to run in the lead back for the entire race at Mosport.
"I've been here twice with Star Mazda, and it helped me get up to speed quickly," Walker said. "The Team MER guys really helped me get up to speed this weekend. For all the open-wheel guys who think this is easy, they're in for a shock. It's been a big challenge to adapt to these cars, only running four races this weekend, but the work paid off this weekend. It's been an amazing experience, but we're getting there finally and it's good to get my first pro podium."
Jeff Mosing drove the No. 30 Team MER/Frank's International/RaceNowForAutism MX-5 to a career-best fourth place finish, one day after his best-ever qualifying effort left him starting fifth. Mosing fell back early, but continued to turn laps approaching the times of the leaders.
Alfred Caiola also earned his top career finish, finishing fifth in the No. 09 AMG/B&L Management MX-5 after qualifying 11. Caiola passed the struggling Evans on lap 23 to move into the top-five.
The weekend gives Rampelberg the edge in the Championship battle with two races remaining both during a doubleheader weekend at Miller Motorsports Park. In third place and trailing Piscitell by 12 entering the weekend, Rampelberg now leads Piscitell by 16 points (482 - 466) after earning 61 points with the round nine win. Cooper trails Rampelberg by 28 points in the championship hunt. Evans (413 points) and Combs (404 points) complete the top five.
Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup rules allow each driver to drop the lowest point-scoring race from their final tally. With the excluded race, Rampelberg leads by 21 points over Piscitell, with Cooper 28 points in arrears of Rampelberg.
The SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup finishes the season with a doubleheader weekend at Miller Motorsports Park, Sept. 10-12. For more information and results, visit www.mx-5cup.com.
Follow the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup on Twitter @ MazdaMX5Cup.