Spec MX-5 Challenge Series presented by Toyo Tires kicked off a West Coast double-header this weekend, seeing the Series head to Sonoma Raceway for Round 8 of the 2023 season. Sunny skies illuminated the gorgeous rolling hills of Northern California, providing perfect weather for the fourteen SMX drivers registered in NASA NorCal’s event.
On-track images by Chris Gill | WestBoundary Photography
A 60-car field would prove to be the biggest challenge of the weekend, which was made more difficult without the standard test day on Friday. The track configuration included the seldom-used NASCAR Chute, so competition was expected to be close after Saturday’s twenty-minute warm-up session, however nothing would stop Wyatt Couch from claiming pole position, two wins, and two fastest-laps. Couch now leads the Driver Standings after Round 8, seeing the young ace hoist the 1st place trophy for his fourth & fifth time this season. Series Veteran Wes Mollno would podium twice over the weekend with P2 and P3 finishes, while Rookie David Tooker snatched P3 in Saturday’s race and Will Schrader claimed P2 in Sunday’s race.
Wyatt Couch started off his weekend of dominance Saturday morning with a blistering lap during qualifying, proving his 1:28.584 out of reach for anyone else. 1.2 seconds back was Wes Mollno after he was able to fight through the traffic on his sixth lap for P2. Rookie David Tooker continued his impressive debut season with a lap good for P3, while fellow new-comer Uthman Alaoui put in the best lap of his season to claim P4. AJ Zarcone would round out the top five with a time of 1:30.686.
Enjoying a separate green flag at the front of the crowded field, race 1 would get underway Saturday afternoon, seeing Couch waste no time to distance himself from the rest of the pack. After just four laps, Couch had a comfortable four-second gap to Mollno. At the end of the same lap, Jon Davies, who didn’t set a representative time in Qualifying due to a glitchy transponder, would move into P6 after starting in thirteenth! The battle in the middle of the pack was where the action seemed to be, as Zarcone and Schrader enjoyed a multi-lap fight for P4, while Davies, Ryan Gutile, and newcomer Chase Nickells would swap positions multiple times for P6. Davies would eventually fight his way through the out-of-class traffic to finish in sixth, while Schrader successfully passed Zarcone to claim fourth. Further back in the field, Adrian Comstock bravely went for an overtake while showcasing fantastic late-braking on the final lap to gain a position. Couch was in a class of his own it seemed, seeing the young ace finish a full 13 seconds ahead of Mollno as the checkered flag waved. Tooker was less than a second behind Mollno in P3 to claim his fifth-consecutive podium of his debut campaign in the Series.
With no qualifying session scheduled for Sunday, the grid was set by each driver’s fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying or race, seeing a significant shuffle through the order for Race 2. The race start mirrored Saturday’s, with Couch wasting no time to separate himself from the rest of the field. Schrader would make a move on Mollno to claim P2 in short order, with Tooker passing Mollno at the final corner of the first lap. Zarcone mimicked Tooker’s move on Mollno, seeing the youngster climb to P4 on the following lap which lead to a fantastic battle with Tooker for P3. On lap three, Zarcone would brave the outside of turn 11 to try and get around Tooker while the Rookie held the inside line. Unfortunately, Tooker would hold the line a little too close to the inside and would make contact with the inside barrier. Quickly losing ground to his competitors behind, Tooker would try to continue but it was found his right control arm was snapped by the contact with the barrier, which forced him to park his car after turn one. The safety car was deployed shortly after to make it safe to recover Tooker’s car, and to slow the race to allow the cars to regroup for an eventual restart. The safety car would leave the track with just three laps of racing remaining. Couch wouldn’t look back, eventually winning his second race of the weekend, with Schrader nearly six seconds behind for P2. After an intense last-lap-battle, Mollno would emerge in P3, with Zarcone missing out on the final step of the podium by a mere two-tenths of a second.
Coming up this weekend, Spec MX-5 will be racing at legendary tracks on both ends of the country, seeing the second half of the exciting West Coast double-header head to Laguna Seca for Round 9, while the Series makes it’s return to the Garden State and Watkins Glen for Round 10.