Pirelli World Challenge Welcomes the MX-5 Cup Car

Multiple teams eye the MX-5 Cup car for several races or for a full season of Pirelli World Challenge.

In 2016, as the Idemitsu MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires transitioned to the new ND-based MX-5 Cup car, the ranks of Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car swelled with newly available NC cars. A few went to Touring Car, but most ended up in TCA, where few changes were needed to make the car competitive. In fact, nearly two-thirds of TCA entries were Mazdas. MX-5 drivers took the top five positions in the TCA points, with Elivan Goulart winning the title and Matthew Fassnacht claiming rookie of the year in fourth. Joey Bickers (second), Eric Powell (third), and Jay Salinsky (fifth) were the others.

The MX-5 Cup car, though, is not far removed from the NC-based car in lap times, and some of those NCs have been raced professionally for nearly a decade. Consequently, it only made sense for the ND to be eligible for TCA, and at the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis in December 2016, the series announced this would be the case.

“Pirelli World Challenge, across the board, is doing a great job growing the series and providing the value that our collective customers appreciate,” says David Cook, Business Development Manager for Mazda Motorsports. “As a result, Mazda is getting more involved with Pirelli World Challenge to better enhance the value for the customer. Adding the ND into TCA is one way we’re doing it.” And while Mazda would like the ND to be the benchmark for the class, Cook stresses that there is no desire to make the NC less competitive or attractive to competitors.

For World Challenge, its long friendship with Mazda made the decision easy. “We’re looking at alignment with the FIA, but, at the same time, responsiveness to the market,” says Greg Gill, President and CEO of Pirelli World Challenge. “For example, there was a tremendous effort to working with Mazda for the ND [in TCA]. That wouldn’t have come as part of an international organization; that came from a friendship with Mazda and a partnership with them to get their cars on the grid.”

S.A.C. Racing, the team that fielded the championship TCA car in 2016 and also won the team championship, has two MX-5 Cup cars in hand and is looking at the possibility of adding more. Team principal Ademir Fedumenti explains that they will be doing some testing to figure out which cars they intend to run.

“Our plan is to do some validation testing and go with whatever is more competitive, even though the series has the leeway on a race-to-race basis to change when they think one car is stronger,” Fedumenti says. “Last year, we set the bar high. We’ve got to show that it wasn’t beginner’s luck.” Fedumenti and Mazda have their preferences, but they are also waiting on some parts to be homologated.

For those looking to dip their toes in the water, having the MX-5 Cup car eligible for World Challenge TCA presents some good possibilities. Several Idemitsu MX-5 Cup teams have expressed interest in crossing over for one or more races, for example, and some of the cars racing elsewhere could do some one-offs when World Challenge is nearby.

“We believed the ND would be well received by grassroots, club racers, track day members, and professional racers,” says Cook. “To build the car as a multi-purpose machine was important. The intent is for it to transfer from series to series with as few changes as possible to keep costs down and maximize opportunity for competition. Every weekend from January to the first week in December is an opportunity for a MX-5 Cup owner…MX-5 Cup, Pirelli World Challenge, SCCA T3, NASA PTC. That’s 48 straight weekends and 250 races that provide a team or a driver ample opportunity to race.”

Pirelli World Challenge’s Touring Car class sees its first action at VIRginia International Raceway the last weekend in April. After that, the series will visit Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Lime Rock Park, Utah Motorsports Campus, Circuit of the Americas, and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.