Clark Toppe arrived in Mazda Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires in 2015 with the powerful, multi-car JDC Motorsports team after a season as a solo driver in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda open-wheel series.
Toppe, 18, from The Woodlands, Texas, finished second in the Lites 1 standings last season behind dominant teammate Kenton Koch. Minnesota-based JDC also featured fast series veteran Matt McMurry in its attack during much of the season.
This year, Koch and McMurry graduated to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. But second-year Prototype Lites driver Austin Versteeg moved to JDC Motorsports and has provided the toughest competition to Toppe this season through the first nine rounds of the championship.
Once again, Toppe’s main rival shares the same paddock spot. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The best thing is to have a teammate, especially one who is fast,” Toppe said. “Then you get the data and watch video and compare and see what they’re doing different.
“I was on a one-car team in USF2000 two years ago. It’s so hard. It’s really, really hard being by myself. You don’t have anything to compare to. You can compare to years’ past data, but that’s not the same.
“So having a quick guy like Kenton, Matt and Austin has been really good. We really push each other. It really helps to be able to see what we’re doing and benefit from each other.”
Teamwork and natural talent have helped Toppe become one of the most promising young stars on the Mazda Road to 24 sports car ladder since he switched from junior open-wheel formulas at the start of last season.
Toppe won three races last season and was the only driver besides Koch to take the top spot on the podium. This year, Toppe has won four of the first nine rounds and trails Lites 1 championship leader and teammate Versteeg by just two points in the standings, 154-152, with five rounds remaining in the championship.
Rounds 10, 11 and 12 will take place Sept. 9-11 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The final two rounds of the season for the IMSA Official Development Series are scheduled for Sept. 28-30 at Road Atlanta.
Success and fun in Mazda Prototype Lites for the last two seasons have convinced Toppe to follow a career path into sports car racing after starting his career in karting and then open-wheel racing on the Mazda Road to Indy. He’s grateful for the consistent support of Mazda throughout his auto racing career.
“Mazda has been with me every step of the way,” Toppe said. “Even when I started racing cars when I was 14, the first car I ever drove was a Mazda Miata. That’s what I was driving at our local track, at MSR (Houston).
“Mazda is easily the biggest contributor in racing nowadays in America. I wish a lot of manufacturers could follow what they’re doing. I think they should. Mazda puts a lot of money and a lot of effort into developing drivers, bringing up the next guys. I think they’re really successful in doing that.
“I wouldn’t be here without Mazda, that’s for sure. The stepping stones that put in place for us are unbelievable. It’s great.”