This weekend at Watkins Glen International, the Mazda Prototype team will carry special liveries to honor Mazda’s win in the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans.
For Chad McCumbee and Stevan McAleer, they too will be trying to emulate a memorable Mazda victory.
The two drivers teamed to win the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race last year at the Glen on their way to winning the ST class championship in the blue, white and silver ModSpace Mazda MX-5, while driving for CJ Wilson Racing.
The duo look to repeat their success this weekend, but this time with Freedom Autosport, in the 2.5-hour Continental 150 at the Glen Saturday afternoon as a part of the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen event.
McAleer, who will be racing near his home in Putnam Valley, NY, and McCumbee, of Ocean Isle Beach, NC, moved to the Freedom team this season and are currently second in the series point standings in their No. 25 car after winning the Continental Challenge race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May.
Teammates Andrew Carbonell and Liam Dwyer finished second at Mazda Raceway, while the third Freedom Autosport team of Britt Casey Jr. and Danny Bender finished eighth in the No. 27 Trumpf MX-5.
Because of IMSA’s Balance of Performance (BoP) regulations, the Mazda MX-5s have an added 95 pounds on-board this year. Does that make a big difference at the 3.4-mile, 11-turn course?
“Mentally, the added weight prepared us for a tough season,” McAleer said. “But, at Watkins Glen, we’ve been so strong there over the years so – on paper – we’re one of the favorites again this year.
“We’re going in with a lot of confidence. We’re second in the points and if we can get away with a top-five, we’re putting ourselves in a good standing for the rest of the season.”
This is the fourth of 10 races this season. Is it too early to worry about the points championship?
“We go to each event to do the best we can possibly do,” McCumbee said. “We won the championship last year, so we can’t ignore the path we’re on this year in comparison. From that viewpoint, we’re in better shape this year than last when we won the championship.”
There is a brand-new, super smooth track surface at Watkins Glen. Will this help or hurt the Mazda MX-5s?
“It could hurt us,” said McAleer. “A front-wheel-drive car is going to be good [on tires] for a shorter period than our rear-wheel-drive MX-5. When the front tires are both turning and driving the car, they wear quicker.
“When you’re on a track with less grip, those tires start to go and the lap times suffer. At Watkins Glen, on the brand-new surface, it’s so grippy now that even when those front tires have fall-off, they’re still strong.
“The Mazdas are always good on a long run and I think if the race goes green for two-and-a-half hours, Chad and I will be somewhere near the front, but we’ll have to work pretty hard for it.”
“It’ll be tougher,” said McCumbee. “But we’re up for the challenge.”