Copeland Doubles Up in the Big Easy

Dean Copeland shows mastery of NOLA Motorsports Park in taking double win in MX-5 Cup’s first visit to the track.

Dean Copeland, of Bowie, Maryland, took Rounds Three and Four of the SCCA Pro Racing Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich® Tires at NOLA Motorsports Park as part of the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana.

Copeland, in the No. 7 Copeland Motorsports/SyncSpeed Inc. MX-5, was not the leader when the white flag flew for the first race at the 13-turn, 2.74-mile circuit, but was able to make the last-lap pass to get to the lead. Sitting in second on the approach to Turn 10, Copeland was on the rear bumper of Patrick Gallagher, who was the leader to start the white-flag lap. Just before the right-hand turn, Copeland made a move to the inside. Gallagher moved to the right to protect his position through the turn, but Gallagher ran over too much of the apex curbing, which catapulted his car into the grass. That was enough to allow Copeland to get to the lead.

Chad McCumbee, in the No. 29 ModSpace MX-5, was subbing for his driver Charles Paquin, who was unable to attend the race. McCumbee stayed toward the front throughout the race, putting himself in a position to take advantage of any mistake made by the top two drivers. In the end, McCumbee’s plan came to fruition as he was able to take advantage of the mistake made by Gallagher on the closing lap.

After making the mistake in Turn 10, Gallagher gathered his No. 44 Howard Concrete Pumping MX-5, and crossed the line in third. Nathanial Sparks and Devin Jones completed the top five.

In the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge class, Bryan Hixon, of San Antonio, Texas, notched an emotional win. Driving the No. 63 Devils Lodge SBMX-5, Hixon dedicated his race to his uncle, J. Lee Johnson, who was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer. Completing the class podium was Ben Albano, of Greenwich, Conn., in the No. 61 Project Yellow Light/Manfredi Jewels SBMX-5, and Robby Foley, of Randolph, N.J.

Before the second race on Sunday, each team was forced to make a setup decision to best deal with the wet, but drying, conditions. Copeland elected to run the same setup from Saturday’s more dry race, and credits that as the edge he needed to win. Copeland also credited the jump he got on both the start and mid-race restart.

John Dean II was the polesitter in his No. 16 Bulb Jacket/Sick Sideways MX-5, but was unable to hold off Copeland’s opening lap charge due to contact in Turn 1. That put Dean back in second, where he spent the mid-race laps battling with Ara Malkhassian.

In the No. 11 ALARA Racing MX-5, Malkhassian was on a mission. Starting 14th, Malkhassian advanced positions from the drop of the green flag. By the end of lap eight, Malkhassian was in seventh. Then, in only one lap, he improved six positions to put him ahead of Dean for second place. After sparring with Dean for position, Malkhassian settled into third and completed the race in the final podium spot.

Jones and Peter Portante, in his best finish, completed the top five.

In the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge, Nikko Reger, of Houston, notched his first win in the series. Albano was second while Hixon was third.

Dean held onto his lead in the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Drivers’ Standings, with 226 points, one ahead of Copeland, while Gallagher is third, with 213 points.

In the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge points, Foley still shows the way with a total of 224. Hixon sits six points behind, followed by Sam Adams, in third, with 215 points.

The next stop for the SCCA Pro Racing Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich® Tires is Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, in Monterey, California, May 1-3.