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SCCA Pro Racing takes to the winding runways of Sebring

 John Dean laps Sebring International Raceway during the opening weekend of last year’s Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship.
John Dean laps Sebring International Raceway during the opening weekend of last year’s Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship.Mark Weber/SCCA

Although most of the major press will focus on the 62nd Anniversary Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida, there are several days of racing preceding the historic endurance classic. The SCCA Pro Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup Series Presented by BFGoodrich Tires starts 2014 at Sebring International Raceway, for the third season in a row, with twin 45-minute timed races on Thursday, March 13, at 5:05 p.m., then again on Friday, March 14, 8:10 a.m. Qualifying for both events takes place on Wednesday, March 12, at 5:50 p.m.

Aside from battling for the Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship, each driver is also fighting to earn the Mazda Motorsports Development scholarship. The prize, which is given to the series champion, is a funded ride in the next step up the motorsports ladder for 2015. Stevan McAleer, the 2012 series champion, spent 2013 in the Grand Am Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge series, earning two wins and Rookie of the Year honors. Last year’s champ, Christian Szymczak, will delay his scholarship until the 2015 season.

The race will be filled with competitors who call the sunshine state home. Andrew Charbonneau (No. 15 ALRARA Racing MX-5), of Delray Beach, Fla., will make his first Mazda MX-5 Cup start. While he may be a rookie, Charbonneau has some serious racing credentials foremost of which is a 2010 Spec Miata National Championship.

The Sebring-based Sick Sideways group should be in the mix for a podium during this two-race event. John Dean, of Sebring, Fla., returns to his home track after logging a very strong second half of the 2013 season. Driving the No. 16 Projections Research/PPG MX-5, Dean has the opportunity to lead his team to a quality finish on home turf.

Also part of then Sick Sideways crew are Nathanial Sparks (No. 8 Bimmerworld MX-5), of Spanish Fort, Ala.; Daniel Bender (No. 3 Bravo Trailers MX-5), of Glencoe, Ill., and rookie Ethan Low (No. 40 K&M Logistics/D&T Productions MX-5), of Clearwater, Fla. This will be the third year that Sparks will be competing at Sebring in Mazda MX-5 Cup trim, and will look to improve from the third- and fourth-place finishes he notched last year. Bender will make his second series start at Sebring, but this is the first in which he is associated with Sick Sideways.

Stay tuned to this column for more updates leading up to the second endurance race on the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship calendar, as well as post race reviews, interviews, and more!

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