The revised 2020 Spec MX-5 Challenge Series opened on June 27 and 28 at historic Hallett Motor Racing Circuit near the emerging hipster hotbed of Tulsa, OK. This was an East Regional points event, and it also gave drivers and crews a chance to shake down the new 2020 specification cars — with Roush engines, Penske shocks and Toyo tires — learn about setup and size up some of the competition.
Very Tight Race 1
Saturday dawned with warm weather, but not unusually so for late June. In first qualifying, the tight competition hoped for in spec cars with quality drivers emerged immediately. Grant West of Buford, GA took pole a mere 0.047 sec ahead of New York’s Matt Fassnacht and 0.057 sec faster than Texas driver Tyler Quance. The entire field was separated by 1.6 seconds front to back.
The Saturday race provided an additional competitive challenge because the Spec MX-5s were gridded behind the field of Spec Miatas. Part of the Spec MX-5 Challenge Series is mixed-class racing where passing skill is integral to the competition. Well-known racer Justin Piscitell demonstrated his skills in this area. Despite having qualified seventh, he steadily picked his way past fourteen Spec Miatas and six Spec MX-5s to win the first Spec MX-5 Challenge race of 2020. In the process, he set fast race lap of the day and demonstrated consistent lap times.
Polesitter Grant West finished P2, 0.691 seconds back. West was hobbled by three laps just a bit off the pace. Tyler Quance completed the podium, 5.5 sec back. He was impacted significantly by one lap with difficult traffic – especially tough in a short race.
Teenagers Aiden Fassnacht and Joey Atanasio, along with West, made impressive debuts. Both had good qualifying times and did well in race 1, finishing P4 and P5 respectively.
Race 2 Drama
Sunday was a new day with a different dynamic. Fresh off his run through the field, New Yorker Piscitell put his X-Factor/DMD Racing/DAMG Racing Spec MX-5 on the pole by 0.443 sec. Quance was second fastest, followed by West, Fassnacht and Atanasio. Again, the entire field was spread by less than 2 seconds.
In race 2, the Spec MX-5s were gridded at the front, setting up a battle of head-to-head pace. Unfortunately, Piscitell had car issues on lap 6, knocking him out of competition, but not before setting fast lap. This retirement didn’t hand Quance the win. Quance fell back to third at the start, but drove consistent fast laps to pick up a position when Piscitell dropped out. This arranged a ten-lap battle with West, in his Walter Motorsports Spec MX-5, who had a great start and had grabbed the lead on the first lap. But a mistake, possibly from pressure by Quance, on lap 16, dropped West back to P2. He then laid down some solid laps, but it wasn’t enough to recover.
Florida karter and emerging hotshoe Joey Atanasio finished P3, with an impressively consistent performance. Atanasio was followed by the father-son duo of Matt Fasnacht and Aiden Fassnacht, who crossed the finish line 0.812 seconds apart.
Summarizing, Quance said “this was a great race weekend at a great track.” Quance and West are tied for the lead in East Regional points (note: only registered points count and are shown).
The Hallett event was a late addition to the schedule to accommodate the growing central contingent of cars and drivers. With another nine cars being tested at COTA and Roebling Road, it was a strong weekend for Spec MX-5 Challenge racing. As the car count expands at combined Regional, Invitational and National events, we expect things to get even tighter.
Road Atlanta on July 24-26, with East Regional, Invitational and National Series drivers together for the first time.