In road racing, you sometimes have to look for the race. This is true for example in F1, where often the battle for 9th between Hulkenberg and Sainz and Kvyat and Perez is much more exciting that the battle for 1st. The 2019 Spec MX-5 Challenge Championship showed us a version of this.
If you “watched” on Race Monitor, the races were pretty simple. Championship leader Tom Martin III got pole and then stepped out to a comfortable lead in each of the two races. Just looking at timing and scoring, he made it look easy. As a result, he won the 2019 Championship. And we’re pretty sure the crew and the competing drivers would agree that he is a deserving champion. Todd Therkildsen, crew chief for Winding Road Racing said “Tom has been strong all year, but there is a lot more to the story. He has tirelessly helped every driver in the Series and he is more than fast: he is strong in traffic and almost never bangs up the car.”
If you were at the track, things looked a bit different. Spec MX-5 racing is multi-class racing, and multi-class racing is often interesting because it sets up a sort of informal BOP system. In this case, Martin had a superb 30 minute battle with Chuck Hines’ NC Mazda MX-5 running in STL, Dan Williams’ ND2 Mazda MX-5 running in T3 and an Robert Garrison’s EP Mazda RX-7. Pass and re-pass was the order of the day. At the checker, Garrison had Williams by 0.9 sec, followed 0.45 back by Martin, who gapped Hines by 3.8 sec. Martin commented “Sometimes I can’t believe how good the Spec MX-5 car is. We’re down as much as 40 hp to cars we can run with, but the chassis/tire combo is so raceable that I can do things in traffic that are pretty sketchy in some other cars. On race day, speed is one thing, but confident passing is often more important.”
The other races we watched were the drivers against themselves. Spec MX-5 is designed to help drivers get faster, and P2 Championship finisher Will Tally and P3 Championship finisher Adam Gonzalez both showed this. They both got their times down to about a second above Martin’s, which is a smaller gap than we had seen in the early races of the year, where two seconds was a more common gap. Martin observed “Will had a great weekend, with good times, great consistency and very few mistakes. I was particularly proud of Adam, who hadn’t been to Road Atlanta before yet dropped his times in every session to come much closer to the front. Adam isn’t afraid to push, but this didn’t get him into any serious trouble, which was another step forward.”
Martin also set a personal goal, which he almost achieved. “I remember in the first year of Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup, my friend Cory Rueth set the lap record in the ND at Road Atlanta during the race at a 1:39.4. I wanted to see if I could beat that in the Spec MX-5.” In the end, Martin almost did it, recording a 1:39.573.
All the drivers and crew were happy with a fun and rewarding weekend. They were also a bit sad that the season is over. But, with new cars to build and test, the 2020 season will be here soon. Winding Road Racing will be doing testing February 21-23 at the newly re-paved Circuit of The Americas (other race shops in the East and West will also be doing testing in the new year). Martin did a 2:34 at COTA in testing last year under ideal conditions, so it will be interesting to see if the new car, with +15hp, and new suspension can beat that. We can’t wait.