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Peter Portante joins the SCCA Pro Racing Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires for their 2015 season racing for Atlanta Motorsports Group(AMG). Peter has graciously agreed to provide his thoughts after each round of this season’s championship. This is his first piece for FBC recalling the two opening races at the Sebring International Raceway this past week. You can follow Peter’s racing exploits by bookmarking his website,, liking his Facebook Page, and following him on Twitter, @portante24. His next event is on April 10th at NOLA Motorsports Park.

A New Year always brings new challenges. For me the challenges would be far more unique then in years past. I would swap my Formula car racing to go sports car racing. ‘My girl’ this year would be a bit more clothed and also a major 2000 pounds heavier. Once you get inside, you realize you have a lot more to do to just make her go. The high-tech sequential gearbox’s I had come accustom to was now a 6-speed H pattern. That pesky pedal all the way to the left went from ‘leave and spin pedal’ to the reason race drivers have three feet.

One of the most glaring differences was comfort. Being fairly tall for a driver, sitting in an open-wheel car was a mixture of positions found even difficult by a Russian contortionist with the added bonus of your back being the fundamental compression point of the car. The Mazda MX-5 in contrast could easily be compared to lounging in your favorite leather couch, at over 120 mph. I must that does seem massively appealing? But then add the part where you sit on this couch with your best winter jacket and boots in over 120 degrees for 45 minutes. It can ruin the utopia of comfort in a race car. But it didn’t!

The next glaring difference came from the paddock of sports car racing. No longer filled by Silver Spooned children who wouldn’t last a day with my yearly earnings in their pocket. It was filled with character, laughter and chatter. I am now part of a paddock that consisted of Gallagher; whose alter ego is Dale Jr., Drake Kemper who has a mustache that creates added downforce, John Dean who has those famous Pork Chop sideburns that make the women sweat more than the insane Sebring hot sun, and Dean Copeland…rocking his sleeveless team attire. All of these guys are class acts. Maybe not the generic driver that has been beaten into to young drivers since they first sit in a Go-Kart. But it makes them no less of a driver then your clean shaven, painfully un-interesting generic drivers that have poisoned our sport.

The first impressions of the car at Sebring was absolutely fantastic. I lead each practice session and never found myself outside of the top four at any time. Qualifying was as disappointing as your first experience trying to quickly devour raw cookie dough. Long story short much shorter…my group which has three of the four fastest cars would be out first. The next group would go out (filled with 28 cars, don’t even ask?!?) and Sebring notorious track would pick up one-second. As for myself with the likes of all the others in my group? We would find ourselves stuck in the bottom of the top 10. Frustration can’t even describe my though process although I should have called the Sebring Police because of how inappropriately our group was handled in qualifying. But it is what it is….and that’s racing as they say.

I would start Race One and Two in position 7. The first race would consist of a really good start for me, after four laps, climbing to fourth position and running down the leaders…Third - Gear in my Race car did a marvelous Houdini impression and disappeared. Thankfully almost every corner at Sebring…bar turn one and 17, are third gear…   I would finish 12th with the fastest race lap.

Race two would be slightly more eventful. I would hang out mid pack for most of the race planning my attack for the end. As the 10 minute mark came and went I began my attack. To the front I soon found myself in the four-car battle for the lead. With two laps to go I would get under P3 on the exit of the hairpin. I was in the best position to win I believe (perfect to draft past P1 and P2) but it was not meant to be.
As I shifted up to third gear I tapped the gate with the Mazda’s left side. That would be too much to overcome and I was quickly swallowed by several cars who were behind. I was thankful to have just enough time to reclaim sixth at the checker. I was; and am still gutted. Though the doors to success are sometimes tough to enter, my family and friends know I’m banging on them and fully expect to be let in. In three weeks as we head to NOLA and the GP of Louisiana I’ll be banging loudly.

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