The Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires held a successful ‘spring training’ session at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama this past weekend to launch the 2018 season.
Twenty-three of the Mazda MX-5 Cup machines took to the track during the two day test and turned a combined 2,760 laps on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course. While the test was just a warm-up for the drivers and teams alike, the visit to Barber provided plenty of insight into what the 2018 season will look like with more than 30 competitors expected to start the season at COTA.
Entrants had nearly six hours of track time available to them over March 3 – 4. The test enabled teams to check the compliance of their MX-5 Cup car, prepare for the series return to Barber Motorsports Park, April 20 – 22, and get a feel for where they stack up against the competition.
Nikko Reger (No. 01 Slipstream Performance) set the fastest lap of the weekend with his 1:40.1146-seconds lap on the meticulously laid out Alabama circuit. He is a front runner for the $200,000 champion’s scholarship.
Mazda Road to 24 racer Rollan makes debut
The test marked the debut of the latest Mazda Road to 24 Scholarship winner Selin Rollan, who was behind the wheel of the No. 87 Sick Sideways car. Rollan is the recipient of a $100,000 scholarship from Mazda for winning the Mazda MX-5 Cup shootout in November of 2017.
“This has been awesome,” Rollan said. “It’s great to be around this crowd; there’s a lot of great drivers in this paddock. Thanks to Mazda for getting me here. Sick Sideways is such an awesome team and it’s so different from Spec Miata, going over data and video after every session and trying little setup changes. We’re gaining knowledge and getting excited for the season.”
Strong rookie field fighting for $75,000 award
Rollan was one of 10 rookies entered in the test as the field will see several new contenders for the $75,000 Mazda scholarship on offer for the top finishing rookie in 2018. Austin Allison, driving the No. 44 WineSociety.com car for AMG, is one of the racers in the new crop as he relishes the chance to get racing in a few weeks time.
“I couldn’t say more positive things about the Mazda MX-5 Cup,” Allison said of his first weekend. “It’s been a great opportunity for me to really learn race craft and compete with a bunch of drivers who are just fantastic. I’ve had a great time. I’m new to the sport. I’d like to be at the top, but that might be a little unrealistic. I think if I can finish the year in the top five, I’d be pretty happy with that.”
International interest grows
Driver Michael Gibaut wins the “farthest travelled award” for the test, coming to Alabama from London, England. Though he’s only raced open-wheel cars and has never driven a left-hand drive car, he was instantly attracted to the competitive and cost-effective series.
“I really like the car,” Gibaut said. “It’s good fun! We reached out to Glen Long, the owner of Long Road Racing, and he told us to come down for the test. It’s been a really good experience. It’s been difficult learning left-hand drive and going from single-seaters to a sportscar. It’s been challenging, but good.”
Gibaut was impressed with his experience and is hoping to return Stateside to compete in the series in 2018, with more international talent also expected to join the series starting in Austin.
Fast friends in the paddock
The 2018 season marks the second consecutive season for the Mazda-owned series to be managed by Andersen Promotions and run under INDYCAR sanctioning. The paddock took a brief break from work on Saturday for a luncheon hosted by Andersen Promotions. The entire field of drivers and team members spent time with series staff as well as with lead motorsports representatives from Mazda including John Doonan as well as Kyle Kimball.
With more than a decade of close racing that has also fostered a lot of friendships, the Mazda MX-5 Cup paddock has a long history of strong competition and healthy camaraderie. The test marked another opportunity for the new roster of rookies and visiting drivers to get to spend some time getting to know everyone.
Full time sheets are available on www.mx-5cup.com.
The Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires 2018 season begins in earnest, March 23 – 25, at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas