On Labor Day weekend, Spec MX-5 Challenge traveled to Sebring, Florida and Buttonwillow, California as part of the revised 2020 schedule. With a shortened schedule, there were setup adjustments to make and competitors to size up before the Championship at Circuit of The Americas in November.
In the East, the venue was the famous Sebring International Raceway which played host to the final round of the East Regional Series. With the exception of points leader Tyler Quance, who has already earned the maximum points possible, all of the top East Region drivers were in attendance.
After a day of practice, drivers set out to qualify on the modified school course used by the SCCA for this Majors weekend. Qualifying results were affected by technical inspections on the weekend, however. As at Laguna Seca the prior weekend, Mazda and SCCA officials were on hand to audit cars. At Laguna Seca, six ECU swaps were performed between races 1 and 2 so that they could be analyzed for any hardware and firmware alterations. All ECUs were determined to be compliant. At Sebring, Mazda amplified the SCCA technical inspections by bringing in the Sick Sideways Global MX-5 Cup race team to help perform visual checks and more invasive inspections, which resulted in two drivers being disqualified for non-compliant engines. While this isn’t the kind of excitement the Series is aiming for, it is critical that the spec nature of the Series be maintained.
In the end, Florida karter and emerging phenom Joey Atanasio (Formidable Racing Development) captured pole, followed closely by Justin Piscitell (X-Factor) and Grant West (Walter Motorsports). The full spread of qualifying times on the grid was only 0.6 seconds.
In race 1 of the weekend, Atanasio defended his pole to win his first race of the season by 3 seconds. Piscitell was second, followed by Matt Fasnacht (X-Factor/DMD). Atanasio also ran the fast lap of the race.
In race 2, Atanasio battled with Piscitell for the win, with Piscitell prevailing by 0.731 sec at the finish line. Another young phenom, Grant West, captured the third step of the podium, 1.2 seconds behind Piscitell. Fifth place finisher Charles Mactutus (Panic Motorsports), who has shown pace all year, set fast lap of the race prior to having mechanical issues.
Meanwhile, in the West Region, racers traveled to Buttonwillow Raceway Park. This complex desert circuit has many configurations, and for this Majors event the SCCA was running the 2.9-mile 25A clockwise version. This was the second round of the West Region regular season, so drivers had an excellent chance to move up in the points standings.
On Saturday, drivers from Southern California showed some muscle. Wes Mollno (ROW Signs) captured pole by 0.352 seconds over Todd Launchbaugh (Lee & Associates). Northern Californian Steve Borlik (Haag Performance) and Michael Travers (TNT Racing) from New Mexico filled out the second row.
In race 1, Mollno led from flag to flag and recorded fast lap of the race. Borlik and Travers each moved up a place to fill out the podium and finish with less that 0.5 seconds between them.
Sunday saw a repeat of Mollno’s flag to flag win. But this time, Launchbaugh retained his qualifying grid position, followed by Borlik and Travers.
Mollno, Launchbaugh and Borlik earned additional podium finishes in STL – both races. Between Mazda and Toyo Tires, the three earned $4800 ($2600 in Toyo Bucks + $2200 in Mazda $); 4th and 5th place Mazda finishers in STL earn $450 for a given weekend.
The Series moves on to Sonoma Raceway in October for the final weekend of the regular season. This race will bring the National field and Invitational drivers Aaron Jeansonne (Team USA and Mazda scholarship winner), Bryce Cornet (SCCA Formula Mazda National Champ) in to compete with the Regional experts, a formula that has delivered some exciting competition to date.