We saw some absolutely amazing racing and incredibly close finishes during the previous Idemitsu MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires double-header at Sebring International Raceway. In race one, the lead changes on the final lap were a great example of impressively clean yet tight racing, which is what we’ve become accustomed to in this series. The dramatic three-wide finish was the second-closest in series history, and the entire series has some of the closest racing to be found anywhere.
Moving to the next round, just west of Sebring on the streets of St. Petersburg, we can expect a very different challenge for the MX-5 Cup drivers. The series started out at Daytona, a superspeedway roval, then moved to the wide Sebring road course with its long straights. Now, at St. Petersburg, the series is on yet a different type of circuit: the street course is tight and narrow, with no room for error. In just three event weekends, the drivers have had to deal with three very different types of racing courses.
St. Petersburg will especially be a challenge for MX-5 Cup drivers who have never raced on a street circuit before. Quite a few of the drivers fall into this category since the series has so many rookies. Despite their newcomer status, they have proven to be fast learners, and the highest-ranking rookie is currently in the top five of the championship.
Precision is always important in racing, but it is absolutely paramount on a street circuit. Drivers have to manage their equipment carefully on a track where there is no runoff. The series went to St. Petersburg for the first time last season, where we saw that the walls are not forgiving and can really affect the outcome of a driver’s weekend, even if things are off by just a matter of inches. A lot of side mirrors got sacrificed to the streets of St. Pete last year!
Not only is the St. Petersburg street circuit tight, but so is the schedule. The teams will practice and qualify on Friday, then have both races on Saturday. There is truly no room for error in race one, since one mistake in that race can erase any hopes of starting race two.
Both of Saturday’s MX-5 Cup races will be streamed live on IMSA.com, IMSA Radio and NBC Sports Gold TrackPass. Race one is set for 8:35am ET and race two will start at 4:20pm ET. A recap of the race weekend will air Wednesday, May 5, at 3:00pm ET on NBCSN.
Tom Long is an accomplished sports car driver with a number of top honors to his name. His storied career with Mazda Motorsports includes his current role in the MX-5 Cup Series as a test driver, coach and race official. You can keep up with Tom on his blog at TomLongRacing.com or on Facebook.