Mazda Motorsports Development Driver takes first Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich® Tires win after moving from Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge.
Drake Kemper, of Toluca Lake, Calif., drove his way to the front of the SCCA Pro Racing Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich® Tires field to take the Round One win at Sebring International Raceway, as part of the 63rd Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida. John Dean, of Sebring, Fla., finished second with polesitter Patrick Gallagher, of Thornville, Ohio, in third.
Kemper, at the controls of his No. 99 Mazda Motorsports Development/BFGoodrich® Tires MX-5, started Thursday’s race in fifth, but was not to be denied a win by the time the checkered flag fell. Kemper continued to show the same dogged determination he displayed during the offseason to improve as a racecar driver by improving his fitness and getting a lot of seat and coaching time. By lap five, Kemper was in the lead and never looked back, as he pulled out a two-second gap over the rest of the field at the 17-turn, 3.74-mile circuit, before the full-course yellow was displayed. The checkered flag flew early as a result of a damaged car in Turn 17.
Kemper was one of two Mazda scholarship drivers to win their first race in a new category on Thursday. Kenton Koch, the 2014 MX-5 Cup champion, also won in his IMSA Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda debut.
In the No. 16 Bulb Jacket/PPG MX-5, Dean, who had been battling illness, was also charging when the yellow came out. From eighth on the grid, Dean improved seven positions. That performance earned him a $500 bonus for the Idemitsu Hard Charger Award. On the opening lap, Dean had already climbed to fifth, then began to claw his way through the leaders before the full-course caution was displayed at the beginning of lap 15.
Gallagher started on the pole, in his No. 44 Howard Concrete Pumping MX-5, but lost a few positions during the opening laps. He was in the lead pack for the entire race but was unable to match the pace of the two Sick Sideways cars.
In the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge, Ben Albano, of Greenwich, Conn., drove his No. 61 Project Yellow Light SBMX-5 to victory. Staring fourth in class, Albano put in a masterful drive to take the season-opening win. Polesitter Robby Foley, of Randolph, N.J., finished second followed by Sam Adams, of Richfield, Wis.
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