SEBRING, Fla. (March 18, 2015) – Patrick Gallagher, of Thornville, Ohio, snatched the first starting position for Thursday’s Round One of the SCCA Pro Racing Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires. Timothy Paul, of Mahopac, New York, and Nathanial Sparks, of Spanish Fort, Alabama, completed the podium starting positions.Gallagher took the pole in convincing fashion, clearing the rest of the field by 0.4-second. At the wheel of his No. 44 Atlanta Motorsports Group MX-5, Gallagher turned a lap of 2:31.071 (89.123 mph) around the 17-turn, 3.74-mile circuit.“We had to go out with the second group,” Gallagher said. “There were a bunch of the Skip Barber cars, so it made finding open track a little difficult. The fact that you can’t draft in qualifying made the situation that much tougher.“I’m happy to be on the front row for both races, if nothing else but for the points. At this track you can win from anywhere, including the back of the pack, if you play your cards right. It’s nice to be on the pole and know we have the pace, so we will just see how the race shakes out.”
Paul will start Thursday’s race in second, at the controls of his No. 6 ALARA Racing/Cellmark MX-5. His best lap stopped the timing clock at 2:31.511 (88.864 mph) during the second 15-minute qualifying group.
“It was a harrowing start,” Paul said. “With 10 cars to prep, I think it took a little longer than everyone was planning. We got to the grid late and missed our qualifying group. They let us go out in the second group, but held us a lap. So, we didn’t have much time to put in a good lap. It handicapped us a little, but it was just time to buckle down and put in a good lap.
“I didn’t even know, until we came into the pits, where we had finished. It was fun. This is what we’re all here for…standing on the podium. Hopefully, at the end of the race we will still be here, able to do this again. This gives us a great shot to do just that.”
In the No. 8 Bimmerworld MX-5, Nathanial Sparks, of Spanish Fort, Alabama, will start third. As part of the first qualifying group to hit the track, Sparks held the provisional pole when the first checker flag flew. Gallagher and Paul were able to make the most of being the second group on track as they surpassed Sparks when he could do nothing to answer the challenge.
“The car was really hooked up,” Sparks said. “I had been on old tires up to this point, so I was looking forward to getting the opportunity to put the new tires on. The new tires didn’t hurt the handling at all, so we were able to stay consistent.
“The new two-group qualifying caught me out a bit. I came into the pits knowing I was on the pole. I felt pretty good, until I realized that there were still some pretty fast guys in the second group. Throughout the session my time fell to third, but I feel really glad about where we ended up. I’m happy to start where I am since it puts me with the leaders, but I’m not the front guy with a big target on my back.”
In his professional racing debut, Mazda Motorsports Club Racing Shootout winner Kyle Loustaunau, of Vacaville, California, will start his first race in fourth. He piloted his No. 4 Mazda Motorsports Development/BFGoodrich Tires MX-5 to a best lap of 2:31.741 (88.730 mph).
Drake Kemper, of Toluca Lake, California, will start Thursday’s race in fifth. His best time was logged at 2:31.767 (88.715 mph).
In the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge, Robby Foley, of Randolph, New Jersey, has the makings of a good weekend. After setting the fastest times in his class for both practice sessions, Foley captured the class pole for Thursday’s race with a best lap of 2:35.791 (86.423 mph).
“The track was a little greasy this session, but some of the changes we had made before going out on track allowed us to stay ahead of it,” Foley said. “The car wasn’t perfect, but it was close enough to put in two nearly-identical laps.
“Starting on pole is, of course, ideal. In these 45-minute sprint races, a lot can go wrong to hinder your run. It’s just going to be about being smart and smooth early. It will also be important to pick your spots early to make sure you’re still there at the end.”
Bryan Hixon, of San Antonio, Texas, will start on the outside pole in his No. 63 TheHotelContessa.com/7DevilsLodge SBMX-5 with a qualifying time of 2:36.066 (86.271 mph). Nikko Reger, of Houston, Texas, will complete the top three starting positions after turning a lap of 2:36.109 (86.247 mph).
The SCCA Pro Racing Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires will hit the track for Round One of 2015 Thursday, at 9:10 a.m. (EDT). The green flag for Round Two is slated for Friday at 7:45 a.m. (EDT).
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Article by: SCCA Pro Racing’s Chris Berg
Photo by : Al Merion Padron