Ernie Francis Jr.: An "A" in PWC

Taking an MX-5 into Pirelli World Challenge’s new TCA class proved a wise move.

Pirelli World Challenge created its new “A” classes with the idea of bringing more privateers into its series; it seems to have worked.

Ernie Francis Jr. made the jump from a TCB – World Challenge’s B-Spec class – Mazda2 to a Touring Car A with an MX-5, and the payoff was a trio of wins and a shot at the championship going into the final weekend at Miller Motorsports Park.

“We wanted to move forward in the World Challenge Series and we saw TCA as a new class they were starting to bring in,” explains Francis. “We thought it seemed like a great class to go from TCB. The first car we thought of was the MX-5 when they said that was one of the cars competing in it. We got the car and started doing some practice with it and it seemed to be a pretty quick car.”

Francis explains that the difference between a TCA car and a Touring Car are small. It starts with a little more weight, but the real difference is in the engine. TCA doesn’t allow as much engine development and, in the case of the MX-5, doesn’t allow for the 2.5-liter MZR swap that is permitted in TC. The idea is for the class to be a little less expensive to run.

One benefit to that is that a car prepared for the Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich® Tires fits quite well into the class, and that is where Francis’s came from.

“We bought this car from Mitchum Motorsports as a built MX-5 Cup car. We got a new sealed motor from Mazda, a new transmission, went through the car and fixed some things. From there, we put on the hardtop, put my graphics on it and started racing. An MX-5 Cup car seems to be one of the best cars to go straight into Touring Car or TCA. The car seems to fit pretty well for the suspension it has. It seems to be a great suspension package for the class,” says Francis.

Francis certainly saw some success in 2014. Unfortunately, it started off on the wrong foot with having to sit out the first race at Barber Motorsports Park due to contact in the final race of 2013. But from there, he was on the podium in all but two races and scored a victory at Canadian Tire Motorports Park and a double win at Brainerd.

“Brainerd was a real good weekend for us, first place in both races. We were really starting to develop the car better, in suspension adjustment and fine tuning, and I was starting to get really comfortable in the car and showing what we could do with it,” Francis says.

Next year, he’s considering racing the same car in Touring Car trim, although the busy racer – he raced in the Trans-Am Series as well and is leading the TA3 standings heading into the final round – is looking at all his options. Whatever he chooses, he’s going into 2015 having learned some valuable lessons this year.

“[I’ve learned] a lot of patience,” he says. “Trying to save the car for races coming up, not trying to do a last-minute dive-bomb move that will risk the car, a low-percentage pass. Save it for the points, knowing that if I finish second here and not first, and I don’t risk the car trying to get that first-place position, that’s going to earn me a lot more points, finishing second over not finishing. That was a big lesson I learned this year.”