Spec MX-5 Challenge Celebrates First Season; Looks to Second

Series for NC MX-5s successfully launched in 2018 and prepares to grow in the coming season

When the Idemitsu MX-5 Cup switched from the third-generation MX-5 (NC) to the fourth generation (ND), it meant there were a lot of the old MX-5 Cup cars on the market. Some of the MX-5 Cup teams took their cars to World Challenge, either upgrading the engine and aero to run Touring Car – Patrick Gallagher won the championship in 2016 – or leaving them nearly as is and racing in TCA, as 2016 champ Elivan Goulart did. Others were sold to find a home in SCCA or NASA club racing, where they have raced in Touring 4, Super Touring Lite (SCCA) or Performance Touring (NASA). Others, meanwhile, sat idle.

Tom Martin of Winding Road Racing and Todd Lamb of Atlanta Speedworks saw an opportunity. Both had raced and run teams in MX-5 Cup and knew the potential of the cars. They had an idea, and then came the final piece of the puzzle.

“It was 70 percent grand strategy and 30 percent serendipity, like a lot of things in life,” explains Martin. “We were running MX-5 Cup and enjoying that, and I can go on and on about what a wonderful series that is. But what we were finding was an unmet need in the market for a product that was somewhat less expensive than MX-5 Cup but had some of the pro features that are currently missing from other fantastic classes like Spec Miata, which is organized as club racing and mostly done regionally. The serendipity part was the opportunity to purchase a group of ex-Skip Barber MX-5 cars that Todd Lamb and I were looking at.  We thought, ‘Why don’t we buy these and put together a series that fills the gap between Spec Miata and MX-5 Cup?’ So that’s what we did.”

Spec MX-5 Challenge ran its inaugural season as a full-season-only, arrive-and-drive series, but one with a big prize for the champion: a $100,000 scholarship that would get a driver a full season in the Idemitsu MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires. Peter Ensor, a Teen Mazda Challenge/Spec Miata participant, won that at the grand finale at Road Atlanta where the East and Central championships came together for an invitational shootout. It was a successful season full of close racing, if not as populated as the organizers would have liked.

“I would say we had very good response to the idea, which I think confirmed we were on the right track,” says Martin. “We had a good turnout given how little time there was between putting the series together in December of 2017 and starting racing in March of ’18. We had a lot of work to do to get the cars race ready.

“The most gratifying thing was the combination of a highly-raceable car and very good competitors; I think the level of competition was really exciting for the drivers, and that’s what you want to see. The ultimate test was, ‘Are we putting on a races series that’s fun to be a part of?’ and I think we got pretty close to a 10 out of 10 on that score.”

Mazda Motorsports Director John Doonan agrees: ‘I’m really excited that those guys kicked things off the way they did,” he says. “It’s a good group of racers and they have dedicated themselves and their investment to seeing it grow. It produced some really good racing and we’re excited to see that program grow. When we see people that have success there graduate into MX-5 Cup, it validates everything we’ve tried to do with the NC, and now the ND, versions of the car – great training tools for hopefully future champions.”

The challenges going forward are to grow the series, to highlight the racing possibilities of the NC MX-5 and expose it to more people. For 2019, the series will be opening up to both single-race entrants and also to competitor-owned cars, giving more people the opportunity to sample the racing. The 2019 series will offer over $150,000 in prizes and will add some of America’s classic tracks like Watkins Glen International, Road America and Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca.

2019 Spec MX-5 Challenge Schedule  
West Region  
  Circuit of The Americas May 4-5, 2019
  Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca June 1-2, 2019
  Sonoma Raceway June 15-16, 2019
  Road America August 17-18, 2019
  Utah Motorsports Campus October 5-6, 2019
  Road Atlanta (Championship) November 2-3, 2019
East Region    
  VIRginia International Raceway March 9-10, 2019
  Summit Point April 5-7, 2019
  Watkins Glen International July 6-7, 2019
  Road Atlanta July 24-28, 2019
  Sebring August 31-Sept. 2, 2019
  Road Atlanta (Championship) November 2-3, 2019


For more information on Spec MX-5 Challenge, visit: www.specmx-5.com.