Spec MX-5 Challenge 2022 Season Opener At Willow Springs Yields Super-Tight Battles

The Spec MX-5 Challenge presented by Toyo Tires kicked off the 2022 West Region season at historic Willow Springs International Raceway in southern California this past weekend. Nine racers were able to complete their car builds or modifications in time for the event. CalClub offered superb SCCA hospitality, and the unified Spec MX-5 paddock functioned as both a tech and a party zone for racers and teams. 

The handful of racers who were not quite ready are probably kicking themselves, because the racing on offer was very exciting.

Qualifying on Saturday morning saw pole go to Clayton Ketcher with a best lap of 1:32.497. He was closely followed by Wyatt Couch at 1:32.819 and Wes Mollno at 1:32.889. Mollno observed that “I probably need to wax my car better to lower the drag, because that difference is about one fender length.” Steve Borlik, Todd Launchbaugh and Michael Travers filled out the first three rows. 

Later on Saturday, race 1 proved even more intense. The top qualifiers put on a major exhibition, joined by Antonio Zarcone. Zarcone put on a heroic effort to catch the front runners and in the process set fast lap of the day. The front three traded positions on nearly every lap of the race and at the checkered flag the order was Couch, Mollno and Ketcher. Couch just pipped Mollno by 0.440 sec, with Mollno leading Ketcher by 0.323 sec. Zarcone was immediately behind Ketcher with a gap of only 0.351 sec. That means the top 4 were about 1 sec apart in total. 

Sunday’s race added a twist with wind gusts up to 40 mph and was a reprise of Saturday’s excitement, albeit absent Zarcone who did not start. This time the results were different, but only in the finishing order, not in the closeness. On Sunday, Ketcher led at the checker, followed by Couch and then Mollno. This time the gaps were even tighter, with Couch only 0.139 sec behind and Mollno following by 0.325 sec. The entire podium finished within half a second. Then, for good measure, Spec MX-5 cars took to the track in the STL class (which also can count for Team points) and swept the STL podium outright.

Couch observed “this is the kind of racing that enticed me to Spec MX-5 Challenge in the first place. I’m looking forward to April’s West Region event at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, where I hope the complexity of the track keeps me dicing it up with my competitors – hopefully I come out on top again.” We’re looking forward to that one too, as well as the big North/South crossover event next week at Virginia International Raceway.

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