Continuing the pattern they set at Sebring, John Dean and Kenton Koch split the two Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich® Tires races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. This time they reversed the order, with Dean taking the first victory and Koch the second.
The teams had a very short turnaround time, because Round 3 went off at 5:45 p.m. on Friday; Round 4 started barely 13 hours after the previous race ended, shortly after 8 a.m. on Saturday.
Dean, of Sebring, Fla., did not get off to a smooth start, in a very literal sense, for the 45-minute race. Starting from second in his No. 16 Projections Research/PPG MX-5, Dean had a good start next to Koch, the polesitter. Koch missed a shift going from first to second gear, giving Dean a slight advantage. Then Dean did the same thing going from second to third, equalizing the two cars going into Turn 2. Dean would come out on top, taking the early lead.
The race at the front did not end there. Following two separate incidents that forced Charles Paquin and Chris Beaufait off track in Turn 4, a full-course caution was called. Following the restart, Sebastian Landy took the lead from Dean and held the position for five laps. By the conclusion of Lap 14, Dean had regained the lead and worked to put a gap between himself and second place.
Once Dean got around Landy, it was Koch’s turn to go on the attack. At the controls of his No 12 ALARA Racing/Mazda Motorsports/BFGoodrich® Tires MX-5, Koch was able to make an outside pass, on Landy, at Turn 2 stick. From there, Koch was able to hold onto the second position.
In the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge, Ben Albano, of Greenwich, Connecticut, took his first win in the series. Robby Foley, of Randolph, New Jersey, and Lucas Bize, of New York completed the podium.
Driving a special Gumby-inspired livery, Koch led all but one lap in the time-shortened Round 4 on Saturday morning that lasted 40 of a scheduled 45 minutes. The start was delayed by 10 minutes due to thick fog that hung over the race course. Once deemed safe to proceed with pace laps, the 40-minute clock was started as the field circulated four times behind the pace car. The green flag was flown for the double-file, rolling start as the leaders passed by the line to begin lap five.
After being turned loose, Koch drove around Dean on lap two to take the early lead. From that point on, Koch put his head down and focused on smooth driving to stay ahead of Dean.
For Landy, the rolling start gave him an opportunity to make the best of his fourth-place starting position. Joey Bickers passed Landy at the drop of the green flag. Bickers then engaged his CJ Wilson teammate, Patrick Gallagher, in battle for the third position. Landy made the most of that situation, taking the position for himself by splitting the two and taking third by the end of lap one.
Bickers crossed under the checkered flag in the fourth position. Bickers battled for supremacy over Gallagher for the entire 21-lap race, and the two drivers traded positions six times, officially.
Bize took home the winner’s hardware in the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge class. He used a combination of patience, smooth driving and slower traffic to move forward from his fourth-place grid position. On the heels of his Round 3 win, Albano finished second. Drake Kemper was third.
Dean leaves California with his championship lead intact. Koch is eight points back. In the Pro Challenge Championship, Kemper takes over the championship lead from Bryan Hixon. On the strength of a win and second-place finish, Albano is only five points behind Kemper while Hixon occupies third.