Elliott Skeer is an 18-year-old race driver competing in the Mazda MX5 Cup — that's the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup — for CJ Wilson Racing. This past weekend at Sebring, Skeer, aka the baby-faced assassin, took the race's second 18-lap round, thanks to a dramatic pass on the last lap.
Skeer started in P4, but advanced into position behind racers John Dean and first-race winner Christian Syzmczak, who was in the lead. That's when Skeer started planning the strategy that would get him around the leaders and to the top of the podium. Let's get inside his head as he makes his calculations.
For the first 12 laps of the 18 lap, 45 minute race, I was behind both John [Dean] and race 1 winner, Christian [Syzmczak]. John was looking to pass Christian wherever he could, but he couldn't make any move stick. This told me that he may not have had enough to hang on and could possibly fall off as things heated up. I was confident that if I could get around John, I could stay with Christian.
On lap 12, I passed John down the front straight to see if we could pair up and go after Christian, with the idea of John following me through as and when I made my move. I soon noticed that Christian and I were pulling John through the corners, and basically our draft was keeping him in the race. From the green flag, I was drawing a map of Sebring in my head and making notes about where I was stronger and where I was losing time to my competitors (12 laps can tell you a LOT about your competition . The map had green in the corners and red down the straights, as I knew my MX-5 was fantastic through the corners but was struggling a little bit on the long straights.
Using this colored map, I mentally ran through about 10 scenarios of the last lap from the point of starting it from all three positions. When, team boss, Jason [Saini] got on the radio to tell me that there were five laps left, I decided that in order to win this I needed to be P2 going on to the last lap and now I needed to select the best possible strategy starting from that position. Knowing that my cornering was strong, but without the straight line speed advantage, I thought about trying a turn 1 pass and protecting the lead for the final lap. I soon ruled that out due to all of the major drafting zones which would leave me as a sitting duck going into T17.
The next option was a move at the hairpin. I eliminated that idea for the same reason along with the added effect of letting John Dean back into the fight. At this point, there were about 3 laps to go, I had to make a decision so I could practice it on the second-to-last lap. I decided that if I could get enough of a run out of T16, I could draft all the way and pop out on the inside going into T17, which had been my best corner throughout the race.
On the penultimate lap, I did a practice run, but lifted and went to the outside as we entered T17 trying not to show my hand. We were basically playing poker at 122 mph going into the final corner. I felt like I was holding all the cards as we started the final lap. My main goal through the lap was to nail every shift, one miss and I would fall too far back. I managed to make every one precisely and knew I was that much closer to executing "the plan." I had a couple of brief moments where I second guessed myself before wiping those ideas from my mind.
Going into T16, which leads onto the very long back straight, I rolled as much speed in 3rd gear as possible and flat-shifted to 4th and 5th. Flat shifting basically means changing gear without lifting the throttle, just kicking the clutch. It is much faster but it is ultimately a lot harder on the car. It probably gave me an additional 300-500 rpm and the cool thing is that since the rpm builds, it's above the ideal shift point, it's almost like an extra boost of power since the engine is spinning faster than the driven wheels.
I had a great run on Christian, I went low and Christian soon went lower. I pulled alongside on the inside and I went as deep as dared and broke as late as I could for T17. Christian went a little deeper into the corner, so I let off the brake to match his position, and held the inside, grabbed the lead and held it all the way to the line. As I crossed the line, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, but soon exploded with joy with some pretty frantic arm movements and steering wheel beating. It was an incredibly satisfying win.
According to the race crew, as Skeer crossed the start-finish line on the penultimate lap, he got on the radio and explained his strategy. Then he added, "The baby faced assassin is about to strike."
FYI, high-school seniors don't get champagne on the podium, just sparkling grape juice.