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Veteran Malkhassian Has Made A Career In Playboy MX-5 Cup

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Veteran Malkhassian Has Made A Career In Playboy MX-5 Cup TOPEKA, June 30, 2011: When the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy MX-5 Cup rolls to its "home race" at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca - site of the very first race in series history - next weekend as part of the Continental Tire Sports Car Festival Powered by Mazda, one very familiar face will be a part of the series.

Ara Malkhassian is the only driver to have been with the series since its inception in 2006, and in his No. 11 ALARA Racing MX-5 has climbed to the top of the charts in a number of prolific categories.

In addition to earning the career title in number of starts, with 48, the two-time winner also tops the Series in fast race laps, top-five and top-ten finishes.

"We're not just enjoying it, we're passionate about it," Malkhassian says, explaining the effort the team puts into the series. "I think it's a great series, and Mazda has done a tremendous job with picking a great package of items to put on the car. They've taken what was already a great car, the MX-5, and made it into a really excellent race car. The way this car drives around the race track is second to none."

Malkhassian takes his veteran role seriously, not only as a driver but as the team principal for ALARA Racing, doing his part in the series with a full-size transporter that typically brings four or five cars to a race weekend for other ALARA drivers. Like Malkhassian, most of the team drivers - including Tim Probert and Harrison Williams this season - got their start in SCCA Club Racing's Spec Miata class and wanted to climb the ladder. Others, like veteran Jeff Mosing who joins the team this season, were looking for a reasonable way to break into Pro Racing and found the MX-5 Cup.

There's a reason for this, Malkhassian says.

"Besides the car being really great, it's the only true spec series that costs less than 300 or 400,000 a year to run. So we really have no competition as a series, in terms of having a place to race and having a car equal to your competition and be able to spend the sub-$100,000 budget that we typically run."

While there are a number of reasons a driver may come to ALARA Racing or the MX-5 Cup, there are even more reasons to stay. One of those is the familiar atmosphere in the paddock.

"The life blood to the series is welcoming new people in," Malkhassian says. "We helped [Kevin] Kopp with parts [at Lime Rock Park] in the absence of the Mazda trailer. We do things we can to keep the newcomers to the series to keep them excited and interesting.

"I'm the elder statesman of the team in terms of experience in races. We have drivers that show higher speed than I do, certainly Mosing and Tyler Cooke are driving wonderfully. But to be able to coach some of the guys who need coaching, and dig from the experience that I have to and be able to use that to further the game for everybody, because at the end of the day this is a game and we're all trying to get better at it."

Ultimately, it's the competition that shines through, whether that's through pure speed or just being a cagey veteran racer.

"The competition is a big part of the fun, it really is," Malkhassian admits. "There's no denying the talent of some of these young drivers, but sometimes you can beat them with a little bit of the maturity that you get from being in the series for so long. That doesn't just include how to drive the car, but how the race develops over time."