Spec MX-5 Challenge Series presented by Toyo Tires headed to the Pacific Northwest this weekend to join the SCCA Hoosier Super Tour at Portland International Raceway for Round 6 of the 2023 Championship. Stunning sunshine would bake the paddock for three days, seeing temperatures in the low nineties for the duration of the weekend.
Hot on the heels of the Championship announcement last Thursday, extra pressure was added to the shoulders of our drivers to put on a spectacular, clean show for not only the spectators at the track, but also the hundreds of viewers with eyes peeled to the Super Tour’s live YouTube channel. Series rookies would use their newly gained experience behind the wheel from Round 4 at Thunderhill to wow the audience, while the veterans kept them in check with great battles during both races. Oregon locals Jon Davies & Will Schrader used their home-track knowledge of P.I.R. to each claim a victory and a second place, while up-and-coming Rookie David Tooker impressed with valiant drives both days to take home a pair of third-place trophies – making it 4 podiums in a row to open his Spec MX-5 career.
An extraordinarily close qualifying session Saturday morning featured the top five drivers posting laps of just .5 seconds between them, seeing Series sophomore, and Portland local, Jon Davies go quickest with a blistering time of 1:28.030 – a new SMX track record at P.I.R. Spec Miata convert Will Schrader would go second fastest, just .2 seconds off Jon’s time, impressive for the rookie in just his second weekend behind the wheel of the Spec MX-5 he built and runs on his own without a team behind him. Series veteran Wes Mollno would finish third-quickest, with rookies Dave Tooker & Ryan Gutile rounding out the top five, respectively. Further down the field Steve Borlik would finish sixth, seeing the return of the fan favorite for the 2023 season. Michael Neumeyer and Patrick Drinkwine would cap-off the SMX field after running the track for the first time in their newly-built cars.
Later Saturday afternoon race 1 got underway with the sun baking the tarmac. Separated from the rest of the field with a split-start, polesitter Jon Davies would drop back to P4 through turn one after a hectic start. He would begin clawing his way back through the front pack by lap two, seeing him pass Ryan Gutile, and then claiming P2 on the next lap passing Wes Mollno. Rookie David Tooker mirrored Davies, seeing him move into P3 after passing Gutile & Mollno. Three separate battles with countless position swapping would last for the next ten laps, putting spectators on the edge of their seats: Borlik and Gutile would tussle for fifth-place, seeing Borlik ultimately hold off Gutile at the line by only .6 seconds. Tooker and Mollno enjoyed a fantastic dogfight for the final podium position, with Tooker using Mollno’s draft on the main straight to make a timely overtake at the start of the penultimate lap. The highlight of the race was the battle for the lead, however. Locals Davies and Schrader stole the show up front, seeing countless lead changes and between the two. Davies would reign supreme as the checkered flag waved, seeing the Series Sophomore win his first Spec MX-5 race, with Schrader earning his first podium in just his second race in the Series after an accident in Thunderhill cut his previous weekend short.
Qualifying 2 on Sunday morning welcomed newcomer Kristine Craine after she worked diligently Friday and Saturday to prepare her #39 car for her debut with the Series, seeing her with the eighth-fastest time. Schrader continued to enjoy driving his new car, claiming pole position with a time of 1:28.491. Rising star Tooker would follow closely behind in P2, just .15 seconds back, with Davies only .1 second adrift. Borlik & Mollno would round out the top five, with a remarkable .02 seconds separating the two veterans.
Sunday’s race was just as exciting as Saturdays, showcasing superb race craft and respect from SMX drivers as they battled each other amid out-of-class traffic during the twenty-five lap contest. Borlik and Mollno would make contact at the first turn, seeing Borlik drop back multiple positions once the field made it through the chicane. The returning racer would put his head down and managed to creep back up the order. Tooker glued himself to Schrader’s rear bumper for the first three laps, seeing the two front runners expertly maneuver through the Spec Miata backmarkers. In third place, Davies would be unluckily held up by the same traffic as it was impossible to move past them through the technical second sector of the track. This would be the story of the previous race winner’s day, seeing him catch the leaders at the worst time. Craine’s debut race saw her battle closely with Neumeyer, while Mollno and Gutile enjoyed a similar multi-lap clash. Tooker would eventually drop over a second adrift of race leader Schrader on lap twenty, with Davies passing the young star on lap twenty-three. Davies would ultimately run out of time to challenge Schrader, seeing the locals finish second and first, respectively. A beaming Schrader was thrilled to jump on the top step of the podium, with him and Davies praising Tooker’s race craft and on-track decorum.
With six rounds now in the books, Spec MX-5 Challenge is rapidly approaching the midway point of the 2023 season. Carolina Motorsports Park will welcome the Series for Round 7 in just two weeks time, marking the first time Spec MX-5 will race at the only purpose-built road racing facility in the Carolinas on May 27th & 28th. A special thank you to the SCCA Super Tour & Oregon Region SCCA for hosting Spec MX-5 and putting on a flawless event, and a heartfelt thank you to all of the Mother’s for supporting our racers and team members – we wouldn’t be here without you.