ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. — It was a weekend of ups-and-downs for Sebring’s John Dean and his Sick Sideways team at Road America. Dean finished fourth in Saturday’s SCCA Pro Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich tires at Road America, but suffered mechanical problems in Sunday’s second race and was unable to finish.
Sick Sideways driver Nathanial Sparks had a solid weekend, finishing second in the opening race and making the podium with a third-place finish on Sunday.
Sparks had the lead in Saturday’s opening race, but Dean Copeland was able to get by him in the final lap to take the victory. Sebastian Landy placed third.
“Before the race, I played every scenario through my head that I could think of,” Copeland said. “But, when it came to the start of the race, all that planning goes out the window. It was pretty clear the Sick Sideways guys, Sparks and Dean, were working together very closely. I tried to get between them early on, but they weren’t having any of that. So, I just decided to sit behind them until the closing laps, and I was hoping someone would come to help.
“Once we got the white flag, Sebastian [Landy] was there to help. We had a shot, and we took it. Landy have me enough of a draft to get around the two Sick Sideways guys.”
Like Copeland, Sparks was part of the five-car group that continually swapped the lead amongst themselves for the second half of the race. The lead officially changed hands nine times among three drivers, while many other unofficial passes for the race lead took place elsewhere on the circuit.
“Crazy is an understatement for what happened out on the track,” Sparks said. “You come here knowing it’s going to be close, but you never can fully expect what is going to happen. At most places it comes down to who can physically drive better, but here it’s all about the mental battle and finding who can help keep you out front. If it weren’t for my teammate, John Dean, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
While not continually dicing for the lead, Landy was able to sit back and size up his competition.
“There were six of seven cars that could have walked away with the win,” Landy said. “The Sick Sideways guys and Dean Copeland were strong. For the most part it was tough to hang with the leaders, and I wasn’t sure I had anything for them. As the race went on, things came to me a little more. I tried to take advantage of the opportunities and came home third. It was great.
“On the last lap, it came down to me working with Dean [Copeland] since he was the only guy with whom I could work. I just tried to see if we could both get by the Sick Sideways guys. I got him to the lead and I was able to get in front of John [Dean]. It was great racing with Sparks through Canada Corner. It was just a great race, the whole way around.”
Copeland made it a sweep by winning Sunday’s race, Kenton Koch placed second.
The battle at the front of the field was another close affair, like Saturday’s race. For much of the time, Copeland was part of a five-car scrum for the lead that included Koch, Sparks, Dean and Landy. On Lap 8, Landy ran off course on the outside of Turn Six, but was able to get back underway after going a couple laps down to the leaders. Dean then dropped from the lead battle after his car suffered a broken suspension component, forcing an early retirement from the race on Lap 10.
Until Dean’s mechanical failure, Sparks worked closely with his teammate. Racing with help from the draft, Sparks was able to get his No. 8 OOTSK Performance/Bimmerworld MX-5 to the front of the line and was scored as the leader on laps nine and 10. Following Dean’s retirement, it was an everyone-for-themselves battle for the win.
“Unfortunately, Dean had a ball joint failure and lost a tow link,” Sparks said. “I’m feeling lucky to have finished where we did, but it would have been a bonus if the team had been able to finish with one more car since we had such good pace this weekend. To be honest I’m not used to being the guy standing on the podium twice in one weekend. We usually run strong and finish fifth, but it’s a great feeling to finish where we did.”
Koch held onto the Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship Point lead having amassed 609 points. Dean leaves Road America in the second position, 90 points out of the lead. Landy is third with 478 points.
The final event of the series will be part of the Petit at Road Atlanta on October 3.