Mazda Champion: Tray Ayres

SCCA Prototype 2 Champ took an unconventional approach to winning the Runoffs with Mazda power

There’s a somewhat established formula to competing competitively in SCCA’s Prototype 2 class: Pair a proven chassis with a motorcycle engine. But while that method will put most talented racers toward the front of any P2 grid, Tray Ayres opted to go a different route.

“I’ve been in P2 since the 2017 Runoffs,” Ayres explains of his decision to race a Mazda-powered Van Diemen RF00. “After winning the 2017 Runoffs at Indy [in Spec Racer Ford Gen 3], I decided I wanted another challenge. I wanted something I can develop, and the development on the West and Stohr [chassis] are done.

“The development on this car was brand new,” he explains of his van Diemen chassis. “Mike Davies is a good friend of mine and he said, ‘If you want something fun like that, I think this can be a competitive car.’ So I took that challenge and tried to make that happen.”

The development wasn’t an easy process, but it’s slightly easier for an engineer like Ayres. Since he no longer does engineering in his work, instead overseeing other engineers for a telecommunications satellite networking company, diving into a project like this was a pleasure. And while there was not much he could do to improve the Mazda MZR engine package, there were plenty of other areas he could concentrate.

“The aero package was the big one,” he explains. “There’s nothing on this car that’s been developed for the class. It’s not the [Sports 2000] floors anymore; these are P2 rules. The engineer in me had an aero analysis done on the car, had the computational fluid dynamics done, and picked the first set of floors, had those made, and ran those for the first two-thirds of the season. But during that time we kept refining the package and came up with a much better floor design, and put those on two months before the Runoffs.”

Similar processes applied to the front splitter, dive planes and the wing as Ayres sought the right balance for the car. The Georgia racer says that between his first race of the year at Sebring in January and the Runoffs at VIRginia International Raceway in October, there were probably 20 changes. During that time, the car had proved quick enough – Ayres won the first seven races he entered – that SCCA’s Club Racing Board hit his setup with competition adjustments and the power of the Mazda engine was reduced.

Despite the car being fairly well sorted by the time the 2019 Runoffs rolled around, qualifying didn’t go according to plan, as there were some unanticipated problems.

“Qualifying was a little bit of a letdown; I made some mistakes in the prep of the car, which led to a motor change, which only left us one qualifier with a car that worked right,” Ayres recalls. “Unfortunately, I was running out of tires at that point, so we were on a used set of tires, but we still managed to put the car on the outside of the front row. It’s not where we wanted to be, but all things considered, we were still on the front row, so I guess I can’t complain. It just wasn’t the smooth sailing I hoped it would be to get there.”

Complicating matters was the fact that the weather for his Sunday morning Runoffs race was very different than it had been all week; the forecast called for overcast and cool conditions, with the threat of rain looming. “That played into a tire decision and I was worried about it, so I went with something that I knew would make the race and wouldn’t wear out on me,” says Ayres. “That made it impossible to drive at first. It was really a big handful in the beginning of the race. Once we got through the first laps and got some heat in the tires, and a few other folks became overly aggressive and made some mistakes, it was just click out five, six, eight laps that were consistent, and the next thing you know, we had a big lead.”

Winning an SCCA national championship with Mazda power gave Ayres a unique opportunity with the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout. He made the first cut, and will go head to head with the other contenders in a Mazda MX-5 Cup car in a couple of weeks with the chance to win a ride in the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich for 2020.

“The Mazda opportunity was something that I had not counted on at all, and it was actually a surprise,” he admits. “I did some homework and decided to go for it. I’m not sure how this will play out, but it’s such a wonderful opportunity that I had to put the effort in and see where it goes.

“We made it past the first round and that was very exciting,” Ayres says. “The work over the last few weeks has been heavy between all of the things I’m juggling, but it was worth it regardless of how the next few weeks play out. We have work to do over next few weeks leading up to the shootout, and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity.”