Approaching Road America

MX-5 Cup driver Nathanial Sparks reveals his approach to the Wisconsin circuit, where the series races this weekend

With its long straights and many deceptively simple corners, Road America may seem like a straightforward circuit, but it’s the nuances at this track that separate the fast drivers from the winners.

There are a few things to remember about Road America, especially in a spec racing category such as Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires. Nathanial Sparks, the 2016 series champion who won one of the two rounds at Road America last year, says that those things include the fact that anybody in the top 10 entering the last lap can win, and that Road America is tough on equipment.

“The track is very aggressive,” says Sparks, noting that hubs and control arms can be issues at Road America. “Every year you want to freshen up the car in the beginning of the season. When Road America rolls around, it’s like the beginning of the season because we want to reduce the odds of the car having issues. Everyone is so fast that anyone in the top 10 can win. You really want to increase your odds of being in the top 10 in the last two laps.”

Wear and tear may also dictate how some corners are driven, he says. “Turn 1 is one of those that you can nail it, come out of it and think, ‘That was great.’ Or you can fight the car through there and come across the rumble strips and the car will wear out. You’re not going to lose or gain a position, but you can treat the car nicer and it’s going to work better toward the end.”

Some of the corners at Road America are obvious in their importance. Turn 14, Turn 3 and the Carousel are all followed by big straights, and any speed lost in those turns will be lost down the following straight. But there are others that may get overlooked that are critical as well.

“The Kink is one of those corners that if you’re not doing it well and you’re not executing it, you’re going to have an extremely hard time winning the race,” he says. “On new tires you’ll be flat, but you’ll be wheeling the car. In the middle of the race when you get aero wash, the tires are hot and the guy behind you is putting on the pressure, the Kink is one of those corners that can make or break you. Everyone is aware of it being a difficult corner, but if you’re not nailing it, you’re going to have an extremely hard time.”

The Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup has two races at Road America this weekend in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series, the Mazda Road to Indy championships and Pirelli World Challenge.