The Spec MX-5 Challenge Central Region travelled to the amazing facility at Circuit of The Americas in Austin this past weekend for an event sanctioned by NASA Texas. The challenging 3.4 mile, 20-turn track, which is used for F1, IMSA, Pirelli World Challenge, MotoGP and Global MX-5 Cup races, allowed Series drivers to showcase the pace and tight racing that Spec MX-5 Challenge is becoming known for.
A rainy Friday test day, with morning thunderstorms that closed the course for the safety of corner workers, allowed drivers only two wet sessions to learn this complex track in their Mazda Spec MX-5 race cars. Series Director Todd Lamb commented “one of the things drivers entering a pro series quickly come to appreciate is that you have to learn tracks quickly, get qualifying done on demand and be able to run fast laps from the green flag. You have to adapt to the situation and it helps you grow your race craft toolkit.”
The weekend weather couldn’t have been more different, with clear skies and mild temperatures throughout. On Saturday, drivers only had 4 qualifying laps, in keeping with the steep learning curve theme. Texas drivers Tom Martin III and Spec MX-5 newcomer Alex Bachoura laid down the fastest laps – separated by 0.212 seconds – to occupy the front row. Martin said “I’ve raced against Alex in Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup, and he’s a great competitor, so I wasn’t surprised that he could run with me even though he is new to these cars.” Bachoura added “the car feels immediately drivable, and the Yokohama tires are quite progressive, allowing me to get up to speed quickly. I had a small mechanical issue that slowed me a bit on my final laps, so I think I could have pipped Tom, but in racing there’s always something that could have been different and you can’t focus on that.”
After qualifying, the drivers were also occupied with sharing and studying data and video from their AiM systems. In this case, Martin invited drivers and coaches to review his numbers and then talked them through his thoughts on gear selection, braking points and line. “This is a driver development series, so teaching and learning through data are a really important part of the deal. You have to pay it forward, just as Mark Drennan did so many times for me over the past few years,” said Martin.
In Saturday’s race, Bachoura got the jump on the start, but polesitter Martin had the inside line for COTA’s famous turn 1 and led into turn 2. While Martin concentrated on a quick first lap, Bachoura and series regulars Matt Million, Noah Grey and Harry Voigt were tightly clustered and effectively gave Martin an assist by engaging in some close dicing. “I saw that I had a small gap by turn 11 and I concentrated on getting a great exit onto the long back straight. By the time we got around to the front straight I had a lead that was big enough that Alex couldn’t really catch the draft. At that point I just had to run cleanly,” said Martin. Meanwhile, Bachoura, Grey, Million and Voigt were in a tight race for podium. Cars swapped positions multiple times, with Grey eventually getting ahead of Bachoura, who had an issue with his setup being less suited to the latter race stages. But Bachoura drove hard and held on to third place.
On paper, Sunday looked set to be a repeat of Saturday, but the details matter. Martin led the Spec MX-5s onto the track for qualifying, but pulled over coming onto the front straight and let the pack drive past. He then spent the next four laps finding the right gap to get a strong tow on the straights. On lap 5 he found the magic distance and laid down the fastest lap of the weekend, a 2:36.077. Bachoura qualified second again, but was slower by 1.3 seconds. He was followed on grid by Million, Grey, Voigt and Clayton Cavell, the total gap from P2 to P6 being only 1.2 seconds.
Come race time, Martin concentrated on a better launch at the green flag and led into T1. But Bachoura wasn’t going to make it easy. The long-time MX-5 Cup driver started reeling Martin in at a steady pace. Bachoura said, “Sunday’s race was set for 50 minutes, which is what I’m used to, and I knew that steady quick laps could allow me to stay in Tom’s draft and catch him if I just chipped away at his lead.” Unfortunately, about mid way into the race, Bachoura’s right front hub started to vibrate, possibly a victim of COTA’s curbing on a “no track limits” weekend. This ended his day and allowed Grey and Voigt into second and third. It also created a gap from Martin to the pack, giving Martin his second win of the weekend.
Martin reflected on a weekend where he took over the Central Region points lead, “Getting two poles and two wins feels great. I just love this car on the Yokohama tires and Pagid Racing pads. We can roll so much mid-corner speed and out-brake other strong cars, making the package amazingly raceable. Also, COTA is now my home track, I’ve run there a few times each year since it opened and I really like the design. Home field advantage never hurts, so while I’d like to say I’ll continue this winning streak, the other drivers are fast and I think as we go to tracks I’ve never driven you may see others standing on the top step.”
About Spec MX-5 Challenge
Spec MX-5 Challenge is an affordable pro road racing series with a focus on driver development and a top prize of $100,000. Seats are still available for the regular season in the Central region which will has run at NCM Motorsports Park, and will then go to Circuit of The Americas, Hallett Motor Racing Circuit and NOLA Raceway Park. The ten-race East season will run at Virginia International Raceway, Summit Point Raceway, Road Atlanta and Monticello Motor Club and also has a seat open. The top seven drivers from each region will compete at a championship-deciding event at Road Atlanta in November. The twenty drivers selected for the series pay $45,000 and receive full arrive-and-drive services, including transport, entry fees, tires, fuel, mechanical work, engineering and a race car. For more information on Spec MX-5 Challenge, visit: