The Spec MX-5 Challenge Series travelled to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin this past weekend. The historic four mile track gave us more of the close racing that Spec MX-5 Challenge is becoming known for, this time with cars running nose-to-tail and crossing start/finish with differences measured in inches.
Qualifying on Saturday gave us seven cars that qualified within 0.8 seconds, followed by the remainder of the field of thirteen. Pole was captured by Justin Piscitell (X-Factor/DMD Racing), with Tyler Quance (Drake Motorsports/X-Factor) on the outside of row 1. Row 2 featured MX-5 Cup winner Drake Kemper (Winding Road Racing/RaceCarRentals.com) and 2019 Spec MX-5 Challenge champ Tom Martin (Winding Road Racing), and row 3 had Spec Miata stalwart Todd Buras (Krispy Kreme/East Street) and young karting gun Joey Atanasio (D-Max Motorsports/Formidable Racing Development).
Race 1 began with a split start, yielding a gap to presumably faster out-of-class cars. However, despite efforts to get the field spread out before encountering lap traffic, the SMX field closed a 30 second gap before T14 on lap 1. Pole sitter Piscitell was in the lead and came up on a back marker who moved off line just as Piscitell was flying by, ending Piscitell’s race in the gravel.
This gave Quance the lead, followed by Martin who had a good start and clean run through the T14 melee. A few laps later, Martin briefly passed Quance, but Quance was able to quickly retake the position after a yellow flag and led comfortably at the end.
However there was plenty of action just behind the leader. Charles Mactutus moved up steadily from his row 4 starting position. He passed Martin into T12 on the penultimate lap to take second position. Martin wasn’t done though, and he re-passed in T6 on the last lap, which was followed by a Mactutus re-pass attempt in T12. The cars ran side-by-side out of T12, through T13 and into the final corner. Martin, on the outside, yielded T14 setting up a drafting run on the final straight. At the timing line Martin managed a final re-pass taking P2 overall by 0.002 seconds. This gave Martin the National Series win.
Mactutus shouldn’t have been too concerned as he locked in second place among regional drivers. He also demonstrated the speed that he had featured at Road Atlanta in Round 2.
Another notable performance was turned in by Grant West. West qualified tenth in the SMX field, but moved up steadily starting on lap 4. West was aided somewhat by battles and equipment problems ahead, but he also made setup changes that allowed him to record a fast lap significantly lower than his qualifying time. West finished fourth overall in SMX, and third in the Regional Series.
On Sunday, the grid was altered because both qualifying and Race 1 laps were counted. This time Quance had the pole, followed by Piscitell, Kemper, Mactutus, Martin and Buras.
In the race, Quance worked his way to a sizable lead, followed by a pack consisting of Atanasio, Kemper and West, trailed a bit by Martin and Buras. Mactutus and Piscitell suffered from mechanical issues, dropping them out of contention.
But the race wasn’t over. Atanasio eventually reeled Quance in and made a pass for the lead. A few turns later Quance took the position back, just as he had in Race 1. Quance again looked in control, but Kemper slowly moved up from fourth to third on lap 9, and then from third to second on lap 12. Then on the final lap Kemper closed to the gap to Quance on the run out of T12, to set up a pass in T13. Kemper had about a car length coming out of T14 up the final straight, but Quance had the draft and took the win by 0.064 seconds (about the length of a bumper cover). P2 gave Kemper the Invitational win, however.
Atanasio finished second in the Regional Series competition with an impressive performance. He was P9 on the first lap, and moved up steadily until he took the lead on lap nine. He held on as the competition intensified and caught the attention of more than a few drivers.
Grant West finished third in Race 2 in the East Regional. Along with a third place finish in Race 1 and good finishes at Hallett and Road Atlanta, West is showing consistent talent. Tom Martin led the National series podium, followed by Aidan Fassnacht and Adam Gonzalez.
Drake Kemper’s Invitational win was a strategy demonstration that more drivers might want to analyze. Drake also helped many drivers during the weekend and was a great ambassador for the Series.
With two wins, Quance has wrestled the East Regional points lead from West, who is now a solid second (although carryover points won’t solidify until racers have done five races or more and drops are calculated). In the National Series, Martin is now in the lead, followed by Fassnacht and Gonzalez.
The Series travels to Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca in 10 days. If Road America is any indication, it should be a thriller.