Wins race with car he won in charity giveaway
Austin, TX (March 23, 2019) – With over 220 passes, a 0.0664-second margin of victory, and the top five finishers all crossing the line within a half second of the race winner, the 31-car Battery Tender ® Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires ® field delivered another thrilling race at the Circuit of the Americas on Saturday.
Racing with a car that he won in a www.lemonsoflove.org raffle, Drake Kemper claimed the victory on Saturday after leading all but one lap in the 45-minute race. A drag race from the final corner saw Kemper take the win by 0.0664-seconds ahead of Bryan Ortiz (4 Copeland Motorsports), Robert Stout (28 McCumbee MacAleer Racing) and Mazda Road to 24 Scholarship winner Michael Carter (No. 08 Copeland Motorsports). Luke Oxner completed the top five in the No. 77 White Racing entry.
The opening stanza saw a manic fight for the lead as the field funneled through the Esses. Contact between pole sitter Selin Rollan (No. 87 Sick Sideways) and Robert Noaker (No. 13 Sick Sideway) spun Noaker sideways in the middle of the track and in the path of Alex Bachoura (No. 33 Slipstream Performance). The race’s only full-course caution was issued to retrieve Noaker and Bachoura’s heavily damaged cars. Rollan was issued a drive through penalty for the incident.
Kemper took charge on the restart in the No. 99 Sick Sideways Racing MX-5, controlling the pace and growing his advantage to nearly four seconds. But the pack was relentless, reeling him in until the final laps when the top five were nose-to-tail.
“I was actually feeling pretty good around halfway when I had a nice, healthy margin,” Kemper said. “But then I missed one shift and the heart rate starting rising. They came at me really fast.”
Entering the final corner of the final lap, Ortiz dove his No. 4 Copeland Motorsports car inside as Kemper took the standard wide track out. They came back together wheel-to-wheel, charging to the checkered flag. Kemper won the fight by a nose over Ortiz.
“On that last lap heading to the checkered, the only thing going through my head was ‘don’t miss the shift, don’t miss the shift, don’t miss the shift’ because I had missed four shifts in the race and at that moment it would have just killed me. Being the first winner with the ND-2 engine and chassis, that’s just awesome. The Sick Sideways crew has been grinding to try and get this win, this one is for Phil (Kinzie), we are racing with heavy hearts,” said Kemper.
It’s the first Mazda MX-5 Cup win for Kemper and it came in a car he won in a 2017 Lemons of Love raffle. For the past three years, Lemons of Love has sold raffle tickets to win a Mazda MX-5 Cup car to raise money for their efforts to send care packages to those undergoing chemotherapy.
“Lemons of Love is a fantastic charity,” Kemper said. “It’s a non-profit organization that’s connected with Mazda to give away a brand new Mazda MX-5 Cup car. I was the first recipient of the car. I only bought one raffle ticket, so I felt bad about that! It got out a few times in 2017 and we didn’t have much luck with it. I brought it to the shootout last year and it came alive!”
Ortiz, who won at COTA last year, was disappointed his plan for a last lap pass didn’t work out.
“I thought coming from second on the last lap I could do what I had done last year,” Ortiz said. “We were really close in the last couple of corners and I think that I managed my tires pretty well. I went side-by-side through [turn] 20 and I thought we raced pretty clean to the finish. It’s the start of the season and I didn’t want to make contact. I prefer to have my car for tomorrow and be on good terms with the other drivers.”
Stout reckons without the full-course yellow he may have had a better shot at the top step of the podium.
“We were working together a little bit at the beginning, but Drake (Kemper) had really good pace the first half of the battle,” said Stout. “Notoriously, my car does well at the end of the race, which is why I was upset about the long caution, because I wanted the tires to wear as fast as possible and that’s when mine would come to life. I think I’m currently setting a record for the most third-place finishes, so I’m looking for a top step tomorrow.”
The new ND-1 class for the previous generation MX-5 car managed to rival the ND-2 finish. After controlling the lead for most of the race, John Dean II’s No. 16 Sick Sideways machine came under attack from Hernan Palermo (No. 20 Slipstream Performance). Another drag race to the finish line ensued and Dean was able to get the better of Palermo by a mere 0.01-seconds. Dean’s teammate Nathanial Sparks finished third in the No. 8 Sick Sideways car.
“The last lap was tough because [Hernan] Palermo had a really good car and he was driving really good through the Esses,” Dean said. “It was just frustrating being stuck behind the ND-2 cars that were ahead of us, they were really choking me up into the corners. Every time we would get to a brake zone I was watching Palermo get closer and closer to me. I honestly didn’t know who won until my team had told me. I’m just happy we could get here as a team, we had a really tough few weeks leading up to the race with the passing of our buddy Philip, but this race win was for him.”
Another member of the ND-1 class, Ted Sahley, was awarded the Battery Tender ® Hard Charger Award for advancing eight positions in his No. 30 Atlanta Speedwerks entry.
Sunday’s race is slated to go green at 8:10 AM local (9:10 PM ET) Sunday, with the livestream hosted at www.mazdamotorsports.com.