The Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge has become a proving ground for aspiring professional racers. By Jason Isley
This feature is part of a special series running on racer.com about the SCCA Pro Racing Battery Tender® Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires as Mazda Motorsports, racers and fans anticipate the 2016 MX-5 and the Global MX-5 Cup. MazdaMotorsports.com will keep you up to date with all the latest news and milestones as Mazda and its partners develop the 2016 MX-5 race car, currently underway.
Running as a support series alongside the SCCA Pro Racing Battery Tender® Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires since the 2012 season, the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge has already turned out some very talented drivers. Perhaps the most notable grad of the Pro Challenge is 2014 MX-5 Cup Champion Kenton Koch, who is on his way to IMSA Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda. Koch won the Pro Challenge 2013 championship.
In 2014, Drake Kemper went after the Pro Challenge championship, and the highly coveted prize that accompanies it. “It was the Mazda Ladder system,” says Kemper of the carrot that drew him to the series. “That is absolutely the best deal in professional racing. You can start just above the grassroots level, and go all the way up racing a prototype if you keep winning.”
The Pro Challenge is essentiality an extension of the Skip Barber Racing School, and utilizes the same Mazda MX-5 that is found in the MX-5 Cup series, with a few minor differences. As part of the program, drivers receive guidance to help them get to the front of the field. “Phenomenal value,” says Drake. “The MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge is a really good learning curve into pro racing; you get free data analysis and coaching; you learn how to set up your car.”
Having successfully reached his goal in 2014, Kemper now graduates to the MX-5 Cup series for 2015. “I will be using my Mazda scholarship to race in the MX-5 Cup,” says Kemper. And while he has a team lined up for his 2015 season, “It has not been announced yet,” he says.
During the 2015 season, the Pro Challenge will share dates and venues with the Battery Tender® Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, allowing its drivers to get a close up look at the MX-5 Cup series, and the prize they are chasing.