BRASELTON, Ga. (April 28, 2007) – Ara Malkhassian, of Sonoma, Calif., played the waiting game perfectly and captured his first career-win in the final corner at Road Atlanta for Round Two of the SCCA Pro Racing SIRIUS Satellite Radio Mazda MX-5 Cup, part of the 30th Anniversary Walter Mitty Challenge. Jason Saini, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Eric Foss, of Braselton, Ga. completed the podium.
Starting fourth on the grid for Saturday’s 26-lap, 66.04-mile race, Malkhassian immediately improved to third on the opening lap and quickly chased down the Team MER cars of Saini and Foss. Malkhassian held down the third-place position in his No. 11 Alara Racing Mazda MX-5 for 18 laps, before making his move around Foss for second. Malkhassian then set to work on then-leader Saini, but an attempt for the lead in Turn One cost Malkhassian enough speed to send him back to third.
After that, Malkhassian opted for a more conservative approach, which paid off big on the final lap. As Saini and Foss got a little carried away going into Turn Ten, Malkhassian was able to maintain his racing line and carry more speed up the hill. The trio crested Turn 11 three-wide, but Malkhassian clearly had momentum on his side and swept through the final corner ahead of Foss and Saini to take the checkered flag.
“We were pretty even the whole race,” Malkhassian said. “I was a little bit better on some parts of the track and they were a little bit better in others. When it came down to them battling, going into the last corner, I just dropped back and took the opportunity to drive past them. Patience paid off today.
“It was definitely difficult [racing against teammates]. I got past both of them at one point, but the power of the draft here at Road Atlanta made it so they were able to draft right past me going into Turn Ten. I could have probably battled for second at the time, but the wise move was to wait, and wait, and wait the whole race, and then it came. I can’t thank DriverSource.com and Redline Racing enough for their support and helping us get the win today.”
In addition to the win, Malkhassian earned the Hawk Hot Lap award for setting the fastest lap of the race, a 1:41.648 (89.957 mph), around the 12-turn, 2.54 mile road course.
Round One winner Saini tried to work with MER teammate and fellow front-row starter Eric Foss to open a gap on Malkhassian, but found it difficult to shake the Alara car.
“We tried to get away from Ara, but that just wasn’t happening,” Saini said. “Everytime we’d make a little mistake he’d be right back with us. Then he’d make a little mistake and we’d get a gap, but then he’d catch right back up. For a while there we were running every lap just about the same lap time, but Ara drove awesome. He made no mistakes and we couldn’t get away, so we tried to hold him off as best we could.”
Saini did earn a point for most laps led in his No. 28 Autobarn Mazda/Saferacer.com Mazda MX-5 and held the largest lead of the day while Foss and Malkhassian fought for second, but missed out by 0.292-second on leading the most important lap of all.
“[Foss and Malkhassian] started battling and I thought I’d be in the clear for a little while. I got a second and a half ahead of them, but then they got back in line and caught right back up to me.
“Hats off to the whole MER team and Mazda, SIRIUS and Kumho for putting this series together. It’s the most fun you can have in a race car. There isn’t any racing closer than this, everybody is equal and it shows.”
Polesitter Foss led early at Road Atlanta in his No. 25 TeamMER/saferacer.com Mazda MX-5, but had his hands full when he fell back to second, trying to keep pace with teammate Saini, while defending his position from Malkhassian.
“Early on, the three of us were able to break away,” Foss said. “Once we broke away Jason and I tried to work together a little bit, but we quickly realized that we weren’t going to shake Ara, so we just tried to establish a good pace.
“On that last lap it was gloves off. Coming down into Ten, Jason and I went for it and we both got in a little too deep. I wouldn’t say we handed it to Ara, but we made it a little easier for him. He definitely deserves it though, he did an awesome job.
“Team MER did a great job this weekend. MX-5 Cup is a riot. Everything about the car was awesome. I had some private sponsorship and I really appreciate those people helping me out. My family was here and it was great to race at Road Atlanta and finish on the podium.”
Driving the No. 30 TeamMER/AimSport/Pinnacle Mazda MX-5, Andrew Caddell, of Graham, Wash., crossed the start-finish line at the head of a five-car pack battling for fourth. He just edged the No. 58 BSI/Team Garcia/MOMO/Joe Gibbs Mazda MX-5 of Andrew Carbonell, of Miami, Fla., who finished fifth in his MX-5 Cup debut.
Pratt Cole, Mark Pombo, Todd Buras, Donna Gilio, and Barry Fromberg completed the top ten.
Saini maintained his lead in the Championship and now sits 13 points ahead of Malkhassian (63-50). They are followed by Cole with 41 points, Matt Cross with 37 and Brett Smrz with 35.
Round Three of the MX-5 Cup will take place at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, May 18-20, as part of the U.S. Sports Car Invitational.
For more information about the SCCA Pro Racing SIRIUS Satellite Radio Mazda MX-5 Cup, visit www.mx-5cup.com.
BRASELTON, Georgia - Results from Saturday’s 26-lap, 66.04-mile SCCA Pro Racing SIRIUS Satellite Radio Mazda MX-5 Cup Round Two race, part of the 30th Anniversary Walter Mitty Challenge at Road Atlanta with finishing position, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car, laps and reason out (if any).
1. (4), Ara Malkhassian, Sonoma, Calif., Mazda MX-5, 26.
2. (2), Jason Saini, Fort Worth, Texas, Mazda MX-5, 26, -.292.
3. (1), Eric Foss, Braselton, Ga., Mazda MX-5, 26, -.481.
4. (3), Andrew Caddell, Graham, Wash., Mazda MX-5, 26, -20.666.
5. (7), Andrew Carbonell, Miami, Fla., Mazda MX-5, 26, -20.961.
6. (8), Pratt Cole, Salt Lake City, Utah, Mazda MX-5, 26, -21.259.
7. (5), Mark Pombo, Duluth, Ga., Mazda MX-5, 26, -23.735.
8. (18), Todd Buras, Melbourne, Fla., Mazda MX-5, 26, -34.038.
9. (17), Donna Gilio, Carson City, Nev., Mazda MX-5, 26, -41.296.
10. (12), Barry A. Fromberg, Plano, Texas, Mazda MX-5, 26, -41.562.
11. (11), Tim Probert, Houston, Texas, Mazda MX-5, 26, -51.459.
12. (15), Brad McAllister, Portland, Ore., Mazda MX-5, 26, -53.528.
13. (13), Matt Cross, Folsom, Calif., Mazda MX-5, 26, -1:02.197.
14. (22), Chris Sarian, Littleton, Colo., Mazda MX-5, 26, -1:11.751.
15. (19), Forest Barber, Forth Worth, Texas, Mazda MX-5, 26, -1:27.572.
16. (23), Harrison Williams, Houston, Texas, Mazda MX-5, 26, -1:33.242.
17. (24), Dale Alexander, Tampa, Fla., Mazda MX-5, 26, -1:35.639.
18. (20), Brett Smrz, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Mazda MX-5, 26, -1:40.103.
19. (21), Rick Bellew, Mobline, Ala., Mazda MX-5, 25, -1 lap.
20. (26), Steve Bottom, Newport Beach, Calif., Mazda MX-5, 25, -1 lap.
21. (6), Jesse Combs, Woodlands, Texas, Mazda MX-5, 20, Mechanical.
22. (16), Patrick Sandlin, Memphis, Tenn., Mazda MX-5, 16, Mechanical.
23. (25), Laura Olson, Costa Mesa, Calif., Mazda MX-5, 12, Gravel Tra.
24. (9), John C. Kuitwaard, Wantagh, N.Y., Mazda MX-5, 8, Mechanical.
25. (10), Randy Hale III, Haddam, Conn., Mazda MX-5, 8, Accident.
26. (14), Mike Gatto, Atlanta, Ga., Mazda MX-5, 6, Mechanical.
27. (27), Dr. Carlos Tesler-Mabe, Vancouver, British Columbia, Mazda MX-5, 0, DNS.
Time of race: 44 minutes, 34.667 seconds.
Average speed: 88.887 mph
Margin of victory: .292 Seconds
Lap leaders: Laps 1-1, #25 Eric Foss; laps 2-2, #28 Jason Saini; laps 3-13, #25 Eric Foss; laps 14-25, #28 Jason Saini; laps 26-26, #11 Ara Malkhassian
Fastest race lap: #11 Ara Malkhassian, 1:41.648 (89.957 mph)
Fastest qualifier: #25 Eric Foss, 1:41.461 (90.123 mph)