The Circuit of the Americas was the location to crown the Champion of the 2022 Spec MX-5 Challenge Series Presented by Toyo Tires – a race weekend which had no shortage of stories to showcase; from an outsider to claim the National Championship on the final race of the season, to a driver charging through the field for his first podium of the season, the Championship event brought both shock & elation as the checkered flag waved Sunday, September 11th.
After three free practice sessions on Friday giving our drivers ample time on track to fine-tune their Spec MX-5s, Saturday’s qualifying session was dominated by Championship front-runner Alex Berg, seeing him jump out of the gates immediately to set the fastest time of the session (which would be fastest of all the weekend’s sessions) of 1:35.135. Grant West was just .450 of a second behind, with Michael Borden in a close third.
Unfortunately, qualifying would be black-flagged on the second lap after there was oil found to be on the track, leaving fellow Championship front-runner Clayton Ketcher without a representative time being set – sending him to start Saturday’s race at a massive disadvantage in P15. Wes Mollno & Westin Workman would follow Clayton at the back of the field, both having the misfortune of not setting a time during qualifying.
With more than just bragging rights up for grabs, the mixture of heat, humidity, and excitement was palpable as the grid lined up to tackle one of America’s most challenging tracks, with drivers milling about in the shade until the very last second. Starting on pole was Alex Berg, followed by Grant West and Michael Borden.
With its elevation change of 133 feet, the drag race to turn one saw Alex Berg come out ahead with Borden shuffling West to third as they guarded the inside line. The end of the first lap saw Clayton Ketcher charge through the field from P15 to P7, with no other changes in the top three, but the war of attrition began as Jason Pribyl sat stranded in turn eight.
The top three changed again on the third lap as Thomas Annunziata moved to P2, pushing Borden back to P3. Nathan Saxon was forced to retire with a fuel pump issue, along with teammate Rowan Gill, who was back on track for the first time since an accident at the June Sprints at Road America.
Ketcher continued to jump up the field, settling into P3 as Berg remained in P1 and Annunziata plotted from P2. The next five laps saw no change in the podium order, but it became clear that Annunziata was closing the gap to Berg little by little in each corner until he would pass Berg on the final lap in a stunning reversal of fortune for Berg. Ketcher would finish in P3.
Westin Workman impressed with his drive from last on the grid in P17, leaving nothing in the tank to finish in P5.
The entire season came down to Sunday’s race as South Region driver Berg, and West Region driver Ketcher were separated by only two points, with National Option driver Annunziata fighting from third in the championship with a 27-point deficit.
After strong drives from both Ketcher & Workman on Saturday, the starting grid of Sunday’s Championship Decider was shook up, seeing Ketcher start from second and Workman from ninth. With double points on offer, and just two points separating Berg & Ketcher, it seemed that whoever would finish ahead of the other would claim the National Championship between the two. Annunziata would have to finish first, hoping for a miracle as he was nearly thirty points behind in third.
As the green flag waived, the first lap saw plenty of action across the field as the top ten shuffled up, with Nate Cicero losing fourth gear and contact between Annunziata and West at the start. Annunziata would move into P3 by the end of the lap, with Ketcher & Berg swapping positions out front.
Berg moved into P1, Annunziata into P2, and Ketcher into P3 on the second lap, and Annunziata moving into P1 on the third lap with Berg and Ketcher hot on his tail.
As Annunziata maintained his lead, Alex Bertagnoli emerged ahead of Ketcher, grabbing P3 behind Berg. Bertagnoli continued to pressure Berg for the next four laps, finally making the pass to second place, where he remained for the rest of the race.
When Annunziata crossed the finish line, he would claim his second victory of the weekend, with Bertagnoli in second, and Berg in third. Ketcher would finish fourth, and Workman would be close behind in fifth.
Following a post-race technical inspection, Car #8 was disqualified for a Level 1 Technical Infraction, Car #2 was penalized for a Level 3 Technical Infraction, and Car #115 was penalized for a Level 4 Technical Infraction.
After driving a flawless weekend by topping two free practice sessions, and winning both races, Spec MX-5 Challenge was proud to crown Thomas Annunziata our 2022 National Champion. Coming into the weekend almost forty points back in third place, Annunziata put his head down and drove the race(s) of his life to secure the title. Clayton Ketcher finishes second in the Championship after an incredible nine first place finishes, with Alex Berg claiming third place in final 2022 standings.
Series veteran Wes Mollno would be crowned Masters Champion, with Charlie Hayes winning PAGID’s Crew Member of the year after he single-handedly ran Clayton Ketcher’s car, dominating the West Region.
A special mention to Westin Workman, who would claim his first podium of the season after the post-race penalties were handed down. A very much deserved third place trophy after his spectacular drive from starting in seventeenth on the grid after a shortened qualifying session.
Spec MX-5 Challenge would like to thank all of our competitors for our best season yet, which saw massive growth and continued interest in our Series. A special thank you to SCCA, NASA, & GT Celebration for ensuring our events were run smoothly, and to our Series partners Mazda Motorsports, Toyo Tires, & PAGID Racing – we wouldn’t be able to run without your continued support. Our 2023 schedule will be released in due time.