Rookie Driver, Rookie Class

Racing rookie Cagri Yilmaz jumped into NASA’s new ST5 class and came away with a Great Lakes region championship

As the National Auto Sports Association (NASA) transitions its Performance Touring categories to Super Touring, many racers are finding the ruleset a more attractive one. While still heavily based on power-to-weight ratio, the Super Touring classes offer a revised formula that changes that power-to-weight ratio based on modifications. The ST5 class is more restrictive than the others in terms of allowable modifications, and that makes it an easy point of entry for many new racers. Cagri Yilmaz is one of those. 

Yilmaz just completed his first year of wheel-to-wheel racing in NASA’s Great Lakes region racing a 2007 MX-5. Previously he had done some HPDEs and ChampCar Endurance Series but this is his first year with a NASA competition license. And he did pretty darn well – not only was he the top rookie, but he took the region championship as well.

In his competition school, for the mock race at the end, it was raining. Yilmaz spun to last place, but then worked his way back to the front. It was a pretty big confidence booster. “I told the regional director, ‘I want to become rookie of the year,” Yilmaz says. “The next day, in the real race, I finished in P1.” He went on to win five more races, including a three-race sweep at Pitt Race.

Yilmaz owns a car dealership and has been involved in cars and motorsports for years. Racing, for him, is a “professional hobby.” He had been on track in an NA Miata and an NC MX-5, but his brother and he had talked about building a real race car, he was going to do it right. Starting with a 2007 MX-5 that had seen some track time but no racing, they set about making it competitive for the new ST5 class.

“When we got the car, the previous owner had it set up for time trials,” he says. “We had to do some changes to get into wheel-to-wheel racing. We did the 2.5-liter conversion, which didn’t give us too much horsepower, but more torque. When we did all the calculations, this was the best fit for the class. ST5 is a class where cars don’t have too much horsepower, but it’s more momentum cars. You can see all kinds of different cars.”

That could mean cars with a lot more horsepower, such as a BMW M3; but those cars will carry much more weight, so the cars will race differently.

“It has got its own driving style – it’s all about corner speed,” says Yilmaz of his MX-5. “In my opinion, it’s more challenging to a driver. The other cars are heavier but have more horsepower. Since its weight-to-horsepower ratio, the racing style is a little bit different. Their job is a little bit easier compared to us. I don’t have much horsepower, but my corner speed is crazy. But overtaking someone in the corner is way harder.”

Yilmaz seems to have done all right, though. Next year he plans to continue in ST5 as well as do some Time Trials. For 2019, NASA is adding the ST6 class to the Super Touring category, and while the NC MX-5 is not eligible for that class, NA and NB Miatas are.

For more information about NASA’s Super Touring classes, see