Mazda Champion: Matt Fassnacht

Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car A winner was the first one to win a race and championship in a Mazda MX-5 Cup car outside of MX-5 Cup

“I was a man possessed at VIR,” says Matt Fassnacht of the opening rounds of the Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car season, where he won both races to begin his run toward the Touring Car A championship. In doing so, he became not only the first person to win a PWC TCA race in a Mazda MX-5 Cup car, but also the first person to win a championship in one, although defending TCA champ and Fassnacht’s teammate, Elivan Goulart, gave him a run for his money in that regard.

Fassnacht had never been to VIRginia International Raceway, so he worked especially hard to prepare for that race. Even though he had contact and a spin that put him back in the field in the first of the two races, he didn’t let that slow him down. Although he didn’t win another race after VIR, he scored five more podiums to maintain the championship run, helped by some Goulart misfortune at Utah. After winning Rookie of the Year in 2016, he really felt he had a shot at the 2017 title, and put in the work to make it happen.

“Last year I ran the MX-5 Cup series and PWC in TCA,” he says. “I finished the PWC series and got Rookie of the Year last year. I felt like if I really put the time in, I could really win that. I started working super hard in the off-season on the simulator, fitness, mental preparedness, and I pulled it off.”

Fassnacht lays much of the credit on his coach, Justin Piscitell, who won the 2009 version of what is now known as the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout. Piscitell raced in the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Challenge before MX-5 Cup, and it was at Skip Barber where Fassnacht got his start.

“I grew up in a little town called Akron, Pa., and me and my buddies would put anything we could find on wheels, whether it was motorized or not,” he explains. “Once I got my license I kind of knew I had this connection with the car. I just loved racing. I worked on cars. I finally got a chance to do a Skip Barber Racing School in the 2000s, then didn’t go again until 2009 when I took a Skip Barber school in the MX-5 Cup car and was instantly hooked. I did a bunch of their races the next couple of years and then got a Spec Miata.”

Fassnacht isn’t sure what’s next for him in the world of racing. The portfolio manager and analyst from New York will spend the off-season fishing and surfing with his three kids while he ponders his next move. “I never imagined I’d be able to have a championship this early,” he says. “It’s not like it’s what I was shooting for. But it’s a pretty cool point to stop and reflect about what you want to do next.” Whatever comes in the near future, he knows he’ll have a good time with it, or he won’t bother.

“At the end of the day, if you’re not doing this for fun, what are he doing it for?” he reflects. “I love being in the car and being at the track. It doesn’t matter what I do or if I win a championship – I aim for championships because I like to push myself and have goals. But it’s not why I do it; it’s about having fun. One of the things Justin and I learned together is if I am not having fun and goofing around, I don’t race well. When I get too serious and I am holding on too tight, bad things happen…well, not bad things, but good things don’t happen. How great is that? I go out and have fun and do better.”