Mazda MX-5 Cup reveals Battery Tender, schedule, global ambitions

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It’s been a big couple days for the Mazda MX-5 Cup series, one of the more entertaining sports car series in the U.S.

Starting Monday at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, the series announced Battery Tender as its new title sponsor. The official series name is Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires. Here’s the full release.

For the 2014 season, the total series payout was in excess of $500,000. The top prize of the Mazda MX-5 Cup is a Mazda Scholarship towards the next higher rung of the Mazda SportsCar Racing Academy ladder. 2014 Mazda MX-5 Cup Champion Kenton Koch will use his scholarship to move up to IMSA Prototype Lites for the 2015 season.

The 2015 season will consist of six weekends supporting the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Verizon IndyCar Series, and the NASCAR XFINITY Series. All weekends will be doubleheaders.

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March 18-20  Rounds 1 & 2 Sebring (with TUDOR)
April 10-12  Rounds 3 & 4 NOLA (with IndyCar)
May 1-3      Rounds 5 & 6 Mazda Raceway (with TUDOR)
July 10-12   Rounds 7 & 8 CTMP (with TUDOR)
August 28-30 Rounds 9 & 10 Road America (with NASCAR)
October 1-2  Rounds 11 & 12 Road Atlanta (with TUDOR)

Additionally, the company also announced that the new, just revealed, 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata will be raced in a new Global Cup series, in North America, Europe and Asia.

Starting in 2016, there will be multiple Mazda Global MX-5 Cup series around the world, all using identically-prepared cars. Full details of the Global MX-5 Cup, including which countries will be involved and when the races will take place, will be announced as they are confirmed. The Global MX-5 Cup will culminate at the end of 2016 with a Global Shootout at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California, to crown the series champion. Among other prizes, the series champion will receive a one-day test in Mazda’s top-level TUDOR United States SportsCar Championship SKYACTIV prototype race car.

“Since the first Mazda MX-5 Miata took the green flag back in 1990, the car has been the ideal platform for both veterans and rookies alike,” John Doonan, director of motorsports for Mazda North American operations, said. “Because the MX-5 is inherently such a good car to drive, it is an ideal platform to learn basic and advanced racecraft, and this has made the professional MX-5 Cup series very successful to date.”

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area. The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean, who finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full season, said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps another his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”