Elliott Skeer, of Vista, Calif., made a dramatic move in the last turn of Friday afternoon's race to break the domination of Christian Szymczak, taking the Round Two SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 win at Sebring International Raceway in support of the 61st Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida. Szymczak, of Palos Verdes, Calif., and John Dean, of Sebring, Fla., completed the top three.
Skeer, driving the No. 17 MAZDASPEED/Pelican Windows/NewBalance/ Phiten/Alpinestars MX-5, had been in third place until he was able to get around Dean on lap 12. Skeer then began working on Szymczak's No. 34 ALARA Racing MX-5, making his presence known early on by filling the mirrors of the winner of Thursday's Round One.
“The last lap, I didn't want to be leading onto the back straight,” Skeer said. “I just went to the inside [in Turn 17] and I hoped he'd leave me a little bit of room and it ended up happening.”
“That was a great maneuver on his part,” Szymczak said. “I was staying to the outside as long as I could and then at the last moment I would go in as soon as they would get close to me. That seemed to be working. It cut off any options they might have. What he did, was he stuck it all the way to the inside. I wanted to keep going to the right, to block him, but I was like ‘penalty.' I was like ‘no, don't do that. Just let him go in there.' It looked for a second like I was going to be able to run the outside of the corner, but he just got to the inside and was able to carry more corner speed and off to the lead he went.”
Skeer won the caution-free 18-lap, 67.32-mile race, averaging 88.852 mph.
“We missed the first three practice sessions early in the week,” Skeer added. “I kind of took a guess at the setup. I actually ended up putting my iRacing setup on the car, hoping it would kind of work. We made one or two changes today and by the time the race came, it was on rails the entire race.
“I came out of last year with two seconds here. One of them was side-by-side with John [Dean] at the line. I love this place. I love the history of this place, so I came out of here thinking if there was a race I wanted to win, even more than my home race at Coronado, it was Sebring. To come back here again and actually get the win in the second race, it's just incredible.”
Szymczak had a much different race than which took place on Thursday. Throughout the run, Szymczak was under attack for most of it. He was unable to break away from the field, which had been the case for each of the previous sessions.
“It was really painful to have [Skeer] go to the inside like that and have nothing I could do about it,” Szymczak said. “Today, I wasn't driving any differently or doing anything differently than yesterday. I thought I was driving just as well. It's just that circumstances would have it that there was no way I could get away and I had to defend the entire race.”
Dean, driving the No. 16 Projections Research/PPG MX-5, wrapped up a second podium in the young 2013 season, scoring a third-place finish. He was in contention for most of the race, even having led lap two. Szymczak, however, made it back around Dean to lead all laps up to the last one.
“Christian was really defensive and I was looking to get by wherever I could,” Dean said. “The gap never really opened up for me. Skeer was back there, trying to work with me and push us through. So I let him through on the front straight, hoping that I could work with him and get back to the lead.
“The brakes were so hot in the end that I just didn't have anything left. So I just had to sit back and watch the race.”
Nathanial Sparks, of Spanish Fort, Ala., finished Round Two just off the podium, driving the No. 8 OOTSK Performance/Bimmerworld MX-5 to a fourth-place finish.
ALARA Racing had a solid team showing in round two. Rookie Bryan Hixon, of San Antonio, drove his No.12 MAZDASPEED/BFGoodrich Tires/ALARA Racing/SPARCO MX-5 to a fifth-place finish ahead of his team owner Ara Malkhassian. Malkhassian, of Houston, finished a hard-fought sixth place in his No. 11 ALARA Garage/ALARA Racing MX-5.
Thanks to early success on Thursday and Friday, Szymczak leaves Sebring with 125 points, 13 markers ahead of Skeer. Dean, a narrow two behind Skeer, heads to Round Three with 110 points.
“Leaving here with the point lead was important,” Szymczak added. “That was the goal, so I'm happy about that.”
Skeer, a high school senior, was joined in the winner's circle by another soon-to-be high school graduate. Kenton Koch, of Glendora, Calif., had to miss a couple tests to be in Sebring this week, but made it all worthwhile, taking two wins in the MAZDASPEED Skip Barber Pro Series.
“Today was definitely different than yesterday's race,” Koch said. “Lucas [Bize] definitely gave me a good fight. We got side-by-side a couple of times. In Turn 17, I protected the inside and he went to the outside. About halfway through the corner, he got a little sideways and almost got into the wall. I was quite surprised that he didn't get the wall, so that was a good recovery.
“From there, I was able to hook up with some of the MX-5 Cup cars and put down a couple of fast laps and get away.
“It's great to come here and win at a track with such great history. To have two high school students in first place, that's really cool.”
The Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup is off for the month of April, but will be back in action May 9-11 for a doubleheader event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, in Monterey, Calif., in support of the American Le Mans Monterey presented by Patron.
Follow the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup on Twitter @MazdaMX5Cup.