CLEVELAND, Ohio (June 24, 2007) - Cleveland native Jason Saini couldn't have asked for a better homecoming this weekend, taking win number two of an SCCA Pro Racing SIRIUS Satellite Radio Mazda MX-5 Cup doubleheader at Burke Lakefront Airport Saturday evening. The Round Six race was part of the Grand Prix of Cleveland, presented by LaSalle Bank. Andrew Caddell, of Graham, Wash., and Matt Cross, of Folsom, Calif., completed the podium.
Starting from his first-career pole in the No. 30 AutobarnMazda/SafeRacer.com MX-5, Saini's start to the second MX-5 Cup race of the weekend went much smoother than the first.
"Going into Turn One, I was in a little better position this time,” Saini said. “I was in first place and I had the inside. I tried to go as deep as I could, hoping that if there was a melee behind me it wouldn’t involve me and it kind of worked out. It was a much better Turn One than yesterday.”
Saini exited the first corner with the lead, but had the No. 80 Hooverspeed/MobiTV MX-5 of Cross filling his mirrors. When Cross took over the point on lap three, the No. 70 Velocity-Club.com/SCDA1.com MX-5 of Elivan Goulart followed, and Saini found himself in third, being reeled in by his teammate Caddell.
“There were a couple of times during the race when I dropped back to fourth, but they were telling me on the radio that Ara [Malkhassian], my main rival in the championship, was way back and struggling. I knew that even finishing third or fourth, I’d still gain some points, but I never gave up. I knew that if I just stayed there someone would make a mistake eventually, so I just waited and watched the battle.”
The current point leader’s plan was right on target, as both Cross and Goulart made mistakes, enabling Saini and Caddell to work their way into the lead spots.
“We were on the radio to each other,” Saini continued. “Our strategy was to work together for most of the race and then when we could try and get away, which we could luckily do in this race, we were able to get a pretty decent draft and just raced for it in the last couple of laps.”
While it appeared that Saini had the best of Caddell in the closing moments of the 30-lap, 63.18-mile race, miscues by both drivers on the white flag lap made the MER teammates’ final trip around the 2.106-mile temporary airport runway circuit the most dramatic of all.
“I went into Turn One and just missed my mark,” Saini recalled. “I was trying to protect the inside and go in deep to get him [Caddell] to go in deep and go a little wide. In doing so, I looked up and saw the '2’ marker, which was about 150 feet later than I had braked all race long, so it was a miracle that I made it anywhere near the apex. It was too much and Andrew was through. I knew that I had an advantage on Andrew on the back straight, so I was going to try a move in the chicane, but he made a mistake earlier, through five, and got sideways. I had a good run and just went down the inside. I just came out the lucky one on that last lap.”
“What a great weekend to come back here and win both races,” Saini beamed. “I never would have expected this. This is such a tight series, the cars are so close and there are so many talented drivers that to be able to win twice is just awesome.”
The win is Saini’s fourth of the season and his fifth-career victory.
Celebrating his 19th birthday on Saturday, Caddell fought back from a rough start in his No. 30 Team MER/AimSport/PinnacleMazda MX-5 to battle with his teammate for third by lap eight.
“I got the jump on Jason at the start,” Caddell said. “We went down into Turn One and I got a little too deep and a little too wide and got out in the dust. I got way too loose and I think I fell back to fifth or sixth. From there, my dad was just telling me to put my head down and catch back up. All of the leaders started to fight, so that helped me get up there and I just kept trying to set consistent times and try to catch back up.”
When Goulart and Cross made errors, the path was cleared for a Team MER one-two finish, but even Caddell himself was pleasantly surprised with the spirited battle that developed between the teammates.
“I was content to stay behind Jason for the rest of the race, but he got a little loose coming off of Four, so I got by him and I led for a couple laps. Then they threw the white flag, and he thought I was going to trick him on the outside and went way too wide into Turn One. I got past him there, but we both made mistakes on the last lap so I think we made for some pretty exciting TV.”
The finish on the track reflected the current Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship standings, as Caddell now moves into second, 42 points behind Saini (184 to 142). Ara Malkhassian is now in third with 138 points.
Starting seventh, Goulart of Shelton, Conn., began the race with an excellent start that got him up into third on the opening lap. Although he did lead several laps of the race while battling with Cross, Goulart’s race began a steady decline from that point forward.
“I learned my lesson from yesterday’s start to keep it to the inside and avoid trouble,” Goulart said. “I got through clean, which is good. Then I had a little battle with Saini and also with Cross. Unfortunately, Cross spun and went off course. Then those two guys [Saini and Caddell] took off and I couldn’t keep up with them. I got a little understeer and with about 15 or 20 minutes to go with lost fourth gear.”
Although he crossed the finish line in third, the No. 70 car was found to be underweight in post-race technical inspection and officials had no choice but to disqualify Goulart from the race.
As a result, Cross moved into third, his second podium finish of the season. It was somewhat of a consolation for Cross, who had lead the most laps of the race before getting his car sideways in Turn Three while attempting to regain the lead from Saini on lap 20.
The No. 7 Coolgas Ltd./Alara Racing MX-5 of Jesse Combs, from Woodlands, Texas just missed the podium, but did move himself to fourth in the Championship, just six points behind his teammate Malkhassian. Bob Michaelian completed the top five in his No. 19 Hooverspeed MX-5. It was a career-best finish for the Seal Beach, Calif., driver.
Both Brad McAllister and Pratt Cole moved up several positions in the race to finish sixth and seventh, respectively.
After a runner-up finish in Friday’s MX-5 Cup Round Five race, Malkhassian had a much tougher go of it on Saturday, going completely sideways in Turn One on the start, but battling back to finish sixth in his No. 11 Alara Racing MX-5. In his march through the field, the Sonoma, Calif., driver clocked the fastest lap of the race, a 1:28.231 (85.929 mph), to earn the Hawk Hot Lap award.
Barry A. Fromberg and John C. Kuitwaard completed the top ten.
The series next heads to Trois-Rivieres in Quebec, Canada, August 17-19, for Round Seven of the Mazda MX-5 Cup.