For the first time this season, Kenton Koch and John Dean II didn’t split wins during a Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich® Tires doubleheader. At the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, Koch, of Glendora, Calif., took the victory in both races and took over the points lead in the process.
In the first race on Saturday, Koch put on a clinic en route to his win in Round 5. Dean, of Sebring, Florida, finished second, followed by his Sick Sideways Racing teammate Nathanial Sparks, of Spanish Fort, Ala.
Driving the No. 12 ALARA Racing/Mazda Motorsports/BFGoodrich® Tires MX-5, Koch made it look like an effortless victory as he finished the race with a 23-second lead. However, it was anything but easy. Hot and humid conditions created difficult conditions. The exhaustion could be seen on the faces of each driver as they climbed from their cars.
While finishing second, Dean’s No. 16 Projections Research/PPG MX-5 sustained damage as a result of the uneven surface of the street circuit. The damage forced him to drive at less than the absolute limit.
Driving the No. 8 OOTSK Performance/Bimmerworld MX-5, Sparks completed the podium after starting in the ninth position. Consistent laps and patience were the two things that helped Sparks get to the front.
Joey Bickers, of Moorpark, Calif., brought his No. 29 Mazda Motorsports/BFGoodrich® Tires MX-5 home in fourth. On lap 24, Bickers was able to make an outside pass by Lucas Catania stick as the two battled for position heading around the Astrodome. Catania, of Cazenovia, N.Y., completed the top five. Starting from the inside of the third row, Catania nailed the standing start in his No. 17 Atlanta Motorsports Group/NY Spine & Wellness/SOS MX-5. Catania was able to pick up two positions before getting to the Turn 2 chicane. However, by the start of lap two Patrick Gallagher had gotten back to third place, before dropping out of the race after making light contact with the concrete barrier just past Turn 9.
On Sunday, Koch backed up the Saturday victory with another. Even better for him, his chief rival in the championship, Dean, finished ninth. Sparks and Sebastian Landy, of Great Falls, Va., completed the podium.
The 25-lap race, which averaged 62.146 mph, was slowed by four laps run behind the pace car. The full-course yellow flag was displayed for the car of Austin Snader that was stranded in the middle of the course, just past Turn 5.
Koch started Sunday’s Round Six race on the pole position and, on the rolling start – a change from the traditional standing launch – Koch was able to hold off Dean in the opening corners. That allowed him to open some track between himself and Dean by the start of the second lap.
Sparks was able to take advantage of three-wide racing ahead of him to make some big moves up the standings. After restarting in sixth, on lap 22, Sparks was able to maneuver his MX-5 to the second position by the time the checkered flag was shown.
Landy ended the weekend on a high note, capturing the final podium position while driving the No. 29 Excitations.com/Atlanta Motorsports Group MX-5. The finish came as a boost to the young Virginian as he said he spent most of the race weekend looking for more speed.
Timothy Paul, of Mahopac, N.Y., notched his first top-five in Mazda MX-5 Cup competition with a fourth. Following Paul to the finish line was hometown racer Timothy Reger, the highest-finishing Texan during both rounds.
In the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge, Drake Kemper and Ben Albano swapped victories.
The Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich® Tires is in action next at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ont., on July 11-13.