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New chapter for Mazda’s Global MX-5 Cup begins at Barber

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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 MX5 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 MX5 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.

Here’s the full entry list.

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).

NHRA Bristol: Schumacher, Capps, Coughlin Jr. take home wins

Tony Schumacher, from left, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Ron Capps. Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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You’ve heard of classic rock, right?

Well, Sunday’s 18th annual Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tennessee) Dragway was classic drag racing – old school style, you might say.

Drivers who have combined for 14 national championships between them emerged at the top of the heap, with eight-time champ Tony Schumacher taking Top Fuel honors, former champ Ron Capps took Funny Car honors and five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. grabbing Pro Stock honors.

In Top Fuel, Schumacher earned his sixth career win at Thunder Valley, as well as his first win overall of 2018.

Known as “The Sarge” due to his U.S. Army sponsorship, Schumacher marched through the field to reach the Winner’s Circle.

Schumacher (3.946 seconds at 313.58 mph) defeated Mike Salinas in what would prove to be Schumacher’s third final round of the season and the 150th of his career.

He now is 6-2 in career final round showings at Thunder Valley.

“We have had little things bite us this season, but we knew we had to overcome adversity and we knew we had a great car that was capable of winning,” Schumacher said. “I’m proud of my team for sticking to our plan, and I know our team is going to be a factor for the rest of the season.”

Schumacher was the No. 2 qualifier in the race and defeated Terry McMillen, Pat Dakin, points leader Steve Torrence and Salinas to take the win.

It was the first runner-up finish of Salinas’ career, defeating Leah Pritchett, No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican and Scott Palmer before meeting Schumacher in the final.

In Funny Car, like Schumacher, Capps won for the first time this season on the NHRA national event circuit. It was also his second consecutive win at Bristol, having won last year’s event there.

Capps earned the 59th win of his career with a pass of 4.234 seconds at 296.37 mph, defeating Bob Tasca III.

Capps also earned Don Schumacher his 300th career nitro victory as a team owner.

“This is a great facility, and when you roll into this place you get a special feeling,” Capps said. “Getting to the Winner’s Circle at a track like this is even more special because you feel like you really had to earn it, and this weekend I am proud of what my team accomplished in some tough conditions.”

Capps went to the top of the Funny Car mountain starting from the No. 11 qualifying position, defeating 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, 2017 Funny Car national champ Robert and J.R. Todd before defeating Tasca in the final round.

Capps qualified 11th for the event before defeating John Force, defending Funny Car world champion Robert Hight and J.R. Todd on his path to Winner’s Circle.

Tasca was the No. 4 qualifier and defeated Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon and points leader Courtney Force to reach his first final round since at Seattle in 2013.

In Pro Stock, Coughlin earned his second win in the last three races. It took an effort of 6.709 seconds at 205.10 mph to defeat points leader Greg Anderson in the final round.

“My team has made some transitions this season and now we are running much faster, and it feels pretty great to be on the right track now this season,” Coughlin Jr. said. “Winning at Thunder Valley is historic and it feels fantastic, so to be crowned a champion here is really special.”

Coughlin qualified No. 2 and beat Tommy Lee, Chris McGaha and Drew Skillman en route to overtaking Anderson in the final round.

Anderson now has two runner-up finishes this season, but continues to seek his first win of 2018.

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule moves on to its 12th race of the season – the halfway mark of the 2018 campaign – next weekend at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, from June 21-24.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Tony Schumacher; 2. Mike Salinas; 3. Steve Torrence; 4. Scott Palmer; 5. Pat Dakin; 6. Doug Kalitta; 7. Antron Brown; 8. Clay Millican; 9. Brittany Force; 10. Leah Pritchett; 11. Shawn Reed; 12. Richie Crampton; 13. Dom Lagana; 14. Bill Litton; 15. Terry Totten; 16. Terry McMillen.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Ron Capps; 2. Bob Tasca III; 3. Courtney Force; 4. J.R. Todd; 5. Robert Hight; 6. Jack Beckman; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 8. Cruz Pedregon; 9. Tim Wilkerson; 10. Del Worsham; 11. Jonnie Lindberg; 12. Shawn Langdon; 13. Jim Campbell; 14. Matt Hagan; 15. John Force; 16. Jeff Diehl.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jeg Coughlin; 2. Greg Anderson; 3. Tanner Gray; 4. Drew Skillman; 5. Erica Enders; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Tim Freeman; 8. Chris McGaha; 9. Jason Line; 10. Bo Butner; 11. Alex Laughlin; 12. John Gaydosh Jr.; 13. Wally Stroupe; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Deric Kramer; 16. Tommy Lee.

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SUNDAY’S FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Tony Schumacher, 3.946 seconds, 313.58 mph def. Mike Salinas, 5.251 seconds, 152.18 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.234, 296.37 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.300, 286.98.

PRO STOCK: Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.709, 205.10 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.741, 205.07.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Mike Salinas, 4.023, 295.53 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.011, 287.72; Scott Palmer, 4.017, 304.39 def. Bill Litton, 4.172, 261.07; Clay Millican, 4.018, 295.14 def. Terry Totten, 4.542, 182.58; Tony Schumacher, 3.917, 316.82 def. Terry McMillen, 5.112, 141.40; Antron Brown, 3.897, 316.82 def. Richie Crampton, 4.057, 297.22; Doug Kalitta, 3.998, 286.38 def. Brittany Force, 3.942, 307.51; Steve Torrence, 3.970, 303.71 def. Shawn Reed, 4.018, 283.25; Pat Dakin, 4.015, 307.30 def. Dom Lagana, 4.107, 272.12; QUARTERFINALS — Salinas, 4.035, 299.20 def. Millican, 9.938, 76.57; Palmer, 4.067, 302.41 def. Kalitta, 4.292, 230.92; Schumacher, 4.028, 288.64 def. Dakin, 4.041, 298.14; Torrence, 4.232, 253.33 def. Brown, 5.090, 155.65; SEMIFINALS — Salinas, 4.042, 301.07 def. Palmer, 4.356, 211.89; Schumacher, 4.038, 297.02 def. Torrence, 4.104, 254.04; FINAL — Schumacher, 3.946, 313.58 def. Salinas, 5.251, 152.18.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.757, 227.23 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 5.978, 124.51; Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.169, 307.65 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 4.382, 262.18; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.213, 300.26 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.362, 252.61; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.133, 303.09 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.183, 289.82; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.582, 229.00 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 5.030, 159.02; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.243, 296.37 def. John Force, Camaro, 5.824, 128.57; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.283, 281.30 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.569, 266.37; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.253, 291.26 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 5.381, 142.06; QUARTERFINALS — C. Force, 4.197, 298.14 def. Johnson Jr., 5.139, 158.45; Tasca III, 4.233, 292.90 def. Pedregon, 5.757, 126.33; Todd, 4.203, 295.92 def. Beckman, 4.333, 277.49; Capps, 4.208, 299.33 def. Hight, 4.233, 300.73; SEMIFINALS — Capps, 4.242, 298.93 def. Todd, 4.372, 285.65; Tasca III, 4.219, 298.60 def. C. Force, 4.271, 286.62; FINAL — Capps, 4.234, 296.37 def. Tasca III, 4.300, 286.98.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.739, 204.45 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.776, 204.45; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.736, 205.32 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.729, 204.88 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.726, 203.95; Tim Freeman, Camaro, 6.787, 202.58 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.823, 201.94; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.754, 205.13 def. John Gaydosh Jr., Chevrolet Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.715, 204.23 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 9.845, 93.14; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.716, 204.35 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 7.027, 176.70; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.719, 205.10 def. Tommy Lee, Camaro, Broke – No Show; QUARTERFINALS — Gray, 6.789, 204.94 def. Freeman, Foul – Red Light; Coughlin, 6.740, 205.26 def. McGaha, 16.733, 48.09; Anderson, 6.723, 204.73 def. Nobile, 6.755, 204.29; Skillman, 6.727, 203.98 def. Enders, 6.743, 204.54; SEMIFINALS — Coughlin, 6.750, 204.51 def. Skillman, Foul – Red Light; Anderson, 6.768, 204.91 def. Gray, 6.764, 205.19; FINAL — Coughlin, 6.709, 205.10 def. Anderson, 6.741, 205.07.

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UPDATED POINTS STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 896; 2. Clay Millican, 786; 3. Tony Schumacher, 760; 4. Doug Kalitta, 717; 5. Leah Pritchett, 663; 6. Antron Brown, 588; 7. (tie) Brittany Force, 552; Terry McMillen, 552; 9. Scott Palmer, 461; 10. Mike Salinas, 421.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, 937; 2. Jack Beckman, 736; 3. Robert Hight, 717; 4. J.R. Todd, 694; 5. Ron Capps, 693; 6. Matt Hagan, 669; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 606; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 508; 9. John Force, 502; 10. Bob Tasca III, 500.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, 823; 2. Tanner Gray, 768; 3. Vincent Nobile, 758; 4. Erica Enders, 738; 5. Drew Skillman, 679; 6. Jeg Coughlin, 671; 7. Chris McGaha, 659; 8. Bo Butner, 642; 9. Deric Kramer, 627; 10. Jason Line, 569.

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