Combination IndyCar and sports car weekends provide a great amount of variety and diversity for fans on road and street course weekends.
This weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, the Verizon IndyCar Series has a few new sports car series joining in for the weekend festivities. With the Pirelli World Challenge leaving Barber after several years and instead focusing on a headliner event at Virginia International Raceway next week, IMSA has brought its Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama to Birmingham.
And then, of course, there’s one of North America’s most exciting forms of racing in the Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, where the next generation Mazda MX-5 Cup car series (the new car was developed by Long Road Racing and more than 120 have been sold) is now under the INDYCAR sanctioning body banner and Andersen Promotions-promoted umbrella. It brings together elements of both the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and the Mazda Road to 24, Mazda’s dual development programs that help bring drivers forward in both the open-wheel and sports car arenas.
The MX-5 Cup will have a different season than normal. It will run alongside IndyCar at Barber this weekend, Road America in June, Toronto in July and Watkins Glen in September, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in June (on SVRA Brickyard Invitational vintage weekend) and then twice at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in September (with IMSA) and October (with PWC and a worldwide SRO GT event).
In late October last year, the series changed hands from SCCA sanctioning to INDYCAR’s. Mazda’s commitment to scholarships continues here: this year’s MX-5 champion will earn a $200,000 scholarship while the MX-5 Cup rookie-of-the-year earns a $50,000 scholarship.
This also gives INDYCAR a sports car series under its sanctioning body umbrella. Vince Kremer, an INDYCAR veteran, will serve as Race Director.
“When Mazda approached us regarding MX–5 Cup, we felt it would be a great opportunity for INDYCAR to expand upon what we’re already doing with our involvement in the Mazda Road to Indy,” Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, said at the time of the announcement. “This agreement also allows us to enhance our overall platform with Mazda Motorsports and Andersen Promotions, who have been great partners of INDYCAR.”
John Doonan, director of motorsports at Mazda North American Operations added, “This sanctioning agreement with INDYCAR for the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX–5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires is based upon our long and productive relationship with Dan Andersen, Andersen Promotions and INDYCAR. By teaming with INDYCAR, we believe the series will thrive. Mazda strives to provide value to our customers, and to present our race teams with this race schedule today is a big step forward. They will have the opportunity to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, plus other iconic circuits in the U.S. and Canada.”
There’s a fun atmosphere in the paddock among the drivers and teams. With the point of entry a bit lower for MX-5 Cup compared to most other single-make championships, it provides plenty of family-type atmospheres all competing for glory but not afraid to enjoy life and conversations off the track.
There are, of course, a handful of star teams within the championship. Sick Sideways Racing out of Florida fields defending series champion Nathanial Sparks, who took years of preparation and development into converting last year’s title. “Sparky” is but one of five drivers from John Dean II’s team, although Dean isn’t listed to drive at the moment. Past Team USA Scholarship recipient Joey Bickers and sports car veteran Keith Jensen are also among the Sick Sideways quintet.
Chad McCumbee and Stevan McAleer continue running their team, which also is a five-car effort under the McCumbee McAleer Racing banner. Patrick Gallagher, a past Mazda MX-5 shootout winner, headlines that lineup with Robert Stout and Nick Igdalsky, a senior VP at Pocono Raceway, among the others.
Series veteran Dean Copeland and his team have four cars, Copeland joined by Nikko Reger, Bryan Ortiz and Dillon Dexter. Todd Lamb (Atlanta Speedwerks) and Ara Malkhassian (ALARA Racing) are other notables in the field.
Spring Training, held at Barber last month, showcased a great amount of variety. Reger posted the fastest time of Spring Training with a lap of 1:40.0932, while Sparks, Justin Piscitell, Tim Barber, Patrick Wilmot and Mark Drennan each closed out a session on top. Piscitell isn’t scheduled to compete this weekend.
Here’s the seven rookies competing for the $50,000 for top rookie:
The 2017 class of Global MX-5 Cup rookies:
- 07 Joe DaSilva, Acushnet, MA. — Ives Motorsports, Ives Motorsports
- 31 Luis Gavignano, Fairfax Station, VA. — Atlanta Speedwerks, McDonalds
- 47 Chris Kopitski, Sioux Falls, SD. — Copeland Motorsports, Kopitski Racing
- 51 Matt Cresci, San Jose, CA. — Slipstream Performance, Mazda Motorsports
- 77 Luke Oxner, Greely, CO. — White Racing, Wine Country Motorsports
- 90 Dillon Dexter, Central City, NE. — Copeland Motorsports, Dexter Racing
- 97 Frank Garcia, Frostproof, FL. — Universal Motorsports, Universal Shooting Academy/Ron Automotive
And here’s the rest of the notes heading into the weekend, courtesy of PR aces Sunday Group:
Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires News and Notes:
— Going Global: the Global MX-5 Cup is the North American edition of the all MX-5 championship, with Mazda’s vision being to create multiple championships around the globe all utilizing the same MX-5 Global Cup car. While 2017 marks just the second season with the new Global MX-5 Cup platform, there is already inertia with new international championships. Official tests for the GLOBAL MX-5 Cup Japan were carried out in March at Sportsland SUGO, Miyagi Prefecture where 10 MX-5 Cup cars took part as a first official step forward to building a championship in Japan.
—Big Oak Ranch visit reflects Mazda’s big hearts: With the support of Mazda and Andersen Promotions, defending MX-5 Cup Champion Nathanial Sparks will host guests this weekend from the Big Oak Ranch (http://www.bigoak.org), a home for children needing a chance. The young visitors will get a behind the scenes look at a race weekend as well as some special opportunities to meet the drivers in the series and see the Global MX-5 Cup machine in person.
—The Barber Motorsports Park entry list includes drivers from 17 states as well as Canada.
—Both races will be streamed LIVE on www.MazdaLive.com on Saturday, April 22. Race 1 starts at 10:00 am (CT) with Race 2 at 5:40 pm (CT).