Spec MX-5 Challenge Closes Out 2022 Season With Thriller at COTA

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.

Alex Berg reigned supreme Saturday morning, with a dominant qualifying session.
Alexander Searle attacking the curbs of COTA.

Race 1:
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.

Our racers approach turn one on the opening lap, cleanly making it through without incident.
Race one would see Annunziata make a last-lap pass to claim victory, with Berg and Ketcher finalizing our first podium of the weekend.

Race 2:
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.

Westin Workman with Grant West and Alexander Searle close behind in Sunday’s race.
Alex Bertagnoli and Thomas Annunziata standing proud with their trophies on Sunday.

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.

Wes Mollno and Spec MX-5 Series Manager, Justin Cornelison.
Charlie Hayes and PAGID’s Jim Emerson.

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.

Looking back at the main straight from the infamous first corner.
Our drivers would enjoy a [hot & humid] track walk Thursday afternoon after load-in.
Jarrett Jones opted for a different mode of transportation to learn the curves of COTA.
Masters Champion, Wes Mollno, celebrated his birthday while at COTA.
Mazda Driver Coach, Chris Nunes, found a new friend during the track walk – affectionately named him “Speedy”.
Spec MX-5 Challenge Series Founder & Owner, Tom Martin, was on hand for the 2022 Finale.
Advanced Autosports fielded six cars for the Championship Event.
Trying to stay cool under the Texan sun before Saturday’s race.
Clayton Ketcher gearing up for Saturday’s race.
On the grid.
The entire paddock had their fingers and toes crossed, hoping for a smooth opening lap.
A wild opening lap saw multiple position changes, but clean and respectful racing.
A unique perspective for our Series Manager, where he was able to monitor all on-track action.
The COTA Observation Tower offered un-paralleled views of our Spec MX-5s on track.
Drivers in Parc Ferme after an eventful first race of the weekend.
Nate Cicero, Westin Workman, and Grant West debrief.
Podium Ceremony underway after race one.
Jarrett Jones gearing up for Sunday’s race.
Alex Bertagnoli impressed during Sunday’s race, claiming his fourth podium of the season.
Our drivers, teams, and guests anxiously await the final podium of the 2022 season.

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