Sometimes championships look easy – win, win, win and carry that points lead throughout the season and clinch before the final race. Then there is what Christian Szymczak had to go through to claim the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup championship.
It came down to a couple of very determined, fast and consistent drivers. Sure, it might not have been as close if Szymczak hadn’t had a DNF early in the season, but no matter what, Elliot Skeer wasn’t going to make it easy.
“We started off on the right foot,” says Szymczak, of Palos Verdes, Calif. “We were fast in testing and we went really well at Sebring, getting a first and a second there and leaving Sebring with the championship lead. The next venue, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, We won the first race and had a DNF the second race. That put us on the back foot pretty much for the rest of the season. We ran strong almost everywhere and had some good results and finally clawed our way back up and got the championship lead somewhere around the two-thirds mark of the season. We carried that small gap we had through to the end. It was close the whole way, though; it was a fight.”
Szymczak doesn’t exaggerate. He had four victories; Skeer had five. Skeer finished on the podium four other times; Szymczak was second or third five times. Both of them were off the podium only twice – Skeer with a pair of fourths, Szymczak with a fourth and the 16th-place finish at Mazda Raceway. Szymczak’s saving grace was qualifying. Ten times out of 12 (Houston had qualifying but no race due to insufficient time for track repairs after Dario Franchitti’s Indy car accident) he qualified on pole. That’s 10 precious points right there whereas Skeer only had one pole.
“I don’t know…it’s a combination of driving and having a good car setup,” he says by way of explaining his qualifying prowess. “I think we always had a car that was good off the truck and never really had to make any modifications to it to make it run fast. It was almost always fast as soon as we started testing it. That was obviously a huge advantage. Also, driving consistently and focusing and preparing myself as a driver physically and mentally. I think that all came together and we had a really good combo package. That was enough for us to have the advantage most of the time in raw pace.”
And in a good many of those races, that raw pace translated into victory at race’s end. Not bad for a guy who, until 2012, when he finished fourth in the MX-5 Cup points with Sick Sideways, hadn’t raced in eight years. He went to a Skip Barber school in 1999 before racing in the school series for a couple of seasons. He went on to the Barber Dodge Pro Series; then the money ran out. Fast forward to a 24 Hours of Lemons race in 2011 and things began falling in place again.
“MX-5 Cup seemed like a competitive place to get a start. There are a lot of good drivers – really good competition, good racing. At the same time it was inexpensive, and Mazda seems to have really great support for the people that are in it. [Sick Sideways owner] John Dean approached me sometime in 2011 at a Lemons race we were doing together and said he was building an MX-5 Cup car. I thought that sounded like a great way to get back into it,” Szymczak says.
By winning the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup championship, he now has some support from Mazda for the next step, although he doesn’t know what that might be. But Szymczak, who makes his living as a multi-family housing real estate developer, hopes he’ll be in Pirelli World Challenge or the Continental Tires Challenge Series. And he hopes to do it with the team with which he won the MX-5 Cup championship, Alara Racing. As long as he’s behind a wheel, though, he’ll be happy.
“I’ve always loved racing,” he says. “It’s really exciting to be a part of it. The atmosphere at the racetrack is like nothing else. I’ve wanted to do it since I was little, so it was an easy choice.”