MCRE Reflects on Sebring Opener Amid COVID-19

April 20, 2020

MCRE Reflects on Sebring Opener Amid COVID-19

A look back at the season opener and a look forward to life after coronavirus

Clearwater, FL (April 15, 2020)—As the old adage goes in racing, just because you have the fastest car doesn’t mean you will win the race. Mike Cope Racing felt that saying in more ways than one at the Trans Am Series Present by Pirelli TA2 season opener at Sebring International Raceway. Bringing along 5 cars under the Mike Cope Racing banner—and multiple Cope Race Car Chassis’ in the field—MCR was set for a podium finish, but fate had something else in mind.

Nearly two months have passed since the season opener, and since then all our lives have been affected by the ever-changing virus, we call COVID-19. As the smoke cleared on the season opener, and our eyes readjust to a new “normal” during this crisis, let’s look back at more carefree times. Here is your Round 1 recap from Sebring International Raceway to get our minds off the constant news that is COVID.

Thomas Merrill seemed to be the car to beat all weekend. Diehl-Merrill Racing has joined with Mike Cope Racing to run for the 2020 TA2 Championship and all eyes were on Merrill as he soared to the top of the charts in practice. Qualifying traffic hindered a pole starting spot, but Merrill still put down a lap that put him in P3 for the main event. It didn’t take long before the #81 Diehl-Merrill Racing/ HP Tuners/ Mike Cope Racing Ford Mustang took the lead. A victory was all but certain before a late race caution with 2 laps to go bunched the field back up. As the green flag dropped Merrill jumped to the front of the pack with a massive lead on P2. With only one lap remaining, the DMR/ MCR team were prepared to meet Merrill in victory lane before a spin ended the hope of victory.

“It appears on the final restart the 81 had a bearing in the rear end come apart,” explained team owner, Mike Cope. “The bearing got caught between the ring and pinion, locking the rear wheels up.”

When Merrill turned around and rolled backwards, the bearing was able to dislodge itself which enabled the car to finish the race.

 “The race was bittersweet for us.  On the one hand, I’m gutted for Richard [Diehl], our partners, and the [Mike Cope Racing] crew.  They deserved that win,” said Merrill. “On the other hand, our pace has given me tons of confidence.  We showed we were the car to beat, and I see no reason why that shouldn’t be the case at every race this season.  I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel at Indy.”

Keith Prociuk jumped behind the #9 HP Tuners/ Mike Cope Racing Ford Mustang for his 6th consecutive season with the Mike Cope Racing team. Typically seen wheeling a Chevrolet Camaro, Prociuk decided to try out a pony in 2020. Taking time off from the driver’s seat during the off season can always pose a challenge to drivers as they get back behind the wheel and Keith shared that sentiment reflecting on Sebring.

“It was fun,” said Prociuk. “It was great being back in the car again; [however], this is the first time in a long time that I simply couldn’t get the car to the limit. I knew I wasn’t on the edge. I never found that groove. On a smoother track like Road Atlanta, I think I’ll do better.”

Prociuk would qualify for the main event in P15 and come home in P12.

Matt Parent rejoined the team at Sebring after a rather long hiatus during the 2019 racing season. His personal business has been BOOMING which caused a lull in his racing career, but the 2020 goals have Parent behind the wheel of his #14 Venture Ford Mustang for most of the season. Getting back in the groove was the goal for the season opener, and Parent did just that. Keeping the nose clean and saying out of trouble, Parent qualified P20 and finished his day P21. Consistency is key and Parent will prove it this season.

Jim Gallaugher is a new face to the Mike Cope Racing banner. Joining us for a few races at the end of 2019, Gallaugher and his Apple Red #16 Madison Group Ford Mustang is on board full time in 2020. Coming off the vintage racing circuit, Gallaugher is just starting to get his feet wet in these powerful TA2 cars. We look forward to great progress as we race through the 2020 season. To add a little inside information and fun facts, Jim Gallaugher and Matt Parent are personal friends from Washington State. The two bring a little friendly competition to the team as they race against each other for all the bragging rights. It looks like the first win will go to Parent, as Gallaugher came home with a P22 finish after starting his day P19. Let’s see who takes it when the season resumes at Indy in June. 

Jett Noland rose to the top of the class in his Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli TA2 powered by AEM debut. Qualifying P8 and working his way into the top 5 before contact on the restart saw the young driver taking a spin but regrouping to come home in P9.

“I can’t thank my Mike Cope Racing crew enough for all of the effort they put into this endeavor,” said Noland. “I’m not used to making all of these left and right turns, but they did an excellent job coaching me through it and getting me up to speed so quickly. I feel like we had a top-five run brewing before the caution came out, but that’s racing. I can’t wait to come out here and do it again.”

And do it again he will… for the remainder of the season. Mike Cope Racing is currently in the process of building Noland his very own Cope Race Car which will debut when the season restarts in June at Indy. Noland will be joining the MCR team for the remainder of the 2020 season and we could not be prouder to have this up and coming talent under our banner.

While MCRE hosts our Arrive and Drive program at each event, we also have numerous Cope Race Cars in the field representing the bad fast Cope Chassis. Here are a few honorable mentions:

L.P. Montour is back behind the wheel of his #13 TA2 Cope Chassis to vie for the 2020 Trans Am National Championship. Montour had a very impressive run at Sebring, and we look for big things out of him and crew chief Todd Fisette.

“It’s nice to see our cars upfront,” stated Mike Cope. “They are doing a heck of a job.”

Elias Anderson ended his day at Sebring with a solid top five finish and made all of us at Mike Cope Racing proud. Anderson works very hard at what he does and deserves to be up front, week in and week out.

Tom Sheehan started his second season behind the wheel of his Cope Race Car. Test, practice and qualifying proved successful as the team seemed to get faster as the weekend stretched on; however, when the green flag dropped the main event, bad luck set in. Sheehan ended his day with a DNF, but the long break before we head to Indy should get Jamie Aube and the rest of the Damon Insulation team plenty of time to get the #97 dialed back in.

While the 2020 Sebring season opener may seem like it took place in another era- it kind of did. Times have changed, but don’t lose faith because we will back racing soon. We are all in these unprecedented times together and we will all come out of this together as well, stronger than before. COVID-19 may have put a hold on things temporarily, but nothing is forever. Stay safe, stay healthy and we’ll see you at the races soon! June 19th to June 21st to be exact…we’ll race you to Indy!

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