Robert Noaker opened the 2020 Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires® season with a perfect record. The high school junior won both races of the Alana Long 100 from pole. Rookie runner Jared Thomas finished second, with Selin Rollan coming home in third.
The path to victory was quite different, but Friday’s race at Road America ended just like Thursday’s, with a last lap pass by Noaker to take victory.
Noaker, Gresham Wagner and Rollan resumed their fight from Race One at the drop of the green flag. Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance) led early on, before Noaker began his attack. Wagner attempted to get back to the front, but contact sent him into the Turn 12 gravel, ending his bid for a second Road America podium.
Then it was Rollan’s turn to out-maneuver Noaker, but he wasn’t alone. Former series champion Todd Lamb and multi-time race winner Robert Stout threw their hats in the ring as well, while Noaker shuffled back in the lead pack that consisted of nine cars. This pack contributed heavily to the 146 passes recorded during the 45-minute race.
With 10 minutes to go, Mazda Road to 24 Scholarship winner Jared Thomas wanted his turn at the front.
On the final lap it was Thomas and Noaker that ran door-to-door through Turns Five and Six, with Noaker emerging as the leader. Just like in Race 1, Noaker was able to pull a small gap on the pack as the fight for the podium raged behind him. It was just enough to get his No. 13 Copeland Motorsports Mazda MX-5 Cup car safely to the checkered flag, a scant 0.1831-second ahead of Thomas.
“There’s really no strategy,” Noaker said. “You just play with what you have. There were a couple of times I got freight-trained and shuffled back to sixth place and then going into Turn Five I end up being back in second.”
Friday’s race win completed a perfect season opener for Noaker, who topped practice times, earned pole for both races and won both races.
“We came into the weekend thinking we just wanted to finish the race, because Road America is so draft dependent; you could be first or you could be 10th, the lead pack is just that big,” Noaker said. “Here we are now, able to sweep the whole weekend! I just have to thank my partners Britney’s Hope, CPT Technologies, Mazda and Copeland Motorsports.”
Driving the No. 96 Carter Racing Enterprises entry, Thomas learned a lot in his first Mazda MX-5 Cup race on Thursday that he was able to apply to Friday’s runner-up finish.
“We came out of the race yesterday and really worked on the car to get it to do what we needed it to do,” Thomas said. “The big thing I learned yesterday was there’s no reason to be racing early, to be battling out front early wasn’t worth it. I was just riding around and then it was halfway through the race and I thought ‘it’s probably time to go,’ and I started to make my run and it worked out great. I’m super stoked.”
Rollan’s late-race strategy did not go to plan and saw him clawing his way back to the final step on the podium.
“I exited the last corner in the lead and I entered Turn One in fifth,” Rollan said. “That didn’t work out too well. I think I made no mistakes to my recollection, so I did as well as I could. Robert has a strong car and drove a great race. I was kind of hoping for more mistakes from him.”
In a drag race to the finish, Rollan’s No. 87 Spark Performance machine crossed the line a mere 0.0985-second behind Thomas.
Thomas’ teammate and 2018 Mazda Road to 24 Scholarship winner Michael Carter (No. 08 Carter Racing Enterprises) finished fourth.
Robert Stout (No. 3 White Racing) completed the top five, while his teammate Matthew Dirks (No. 76 White Racing) claimed the Idemitsu Hard Charger Award for advancing 10 positions during the race.
“I want to thank White Racing for giving me such a great car and giving me the opportunity to be out here,” Dirks said. “We made some setup changes to reduce the rotation because it was rotating quite a bit. We were able to take care of that so I was able to hold it out through the Carousel longer. I felt like I should work my way through the cars as fast as possible, because I have a good setup. It was teamwork that got me here, so I want to thank them.”
The No. 27 Slipstream Performance car with Liam Snyder at the wheel finished 18th and was the highest ND1 entrant.
Mazda MX-5 Cup rejoins the NTT IndyCar Series for its next two races at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, August 7 – 9.