After a pair of victories slipped through his fingers in his 2017 rookie campaign, Bryan Ortiz (No. 4 Copeland Motorsports) broke through to claim his first-ever Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires victory on Saturday after emerging out front following a thrilling final-lap shootout at the Circuit of The Americas.
A restart with one lap to go set up Ortiz’s 0.8790-second victory over Nikko Reger (No. 01 Slipstream Performance). Ortiz’s win followed a fierce fight through nearly every one of COTA’s 20 corners as he, Reger, and impressive newcomer Selin Rollan (No. 87 Sick Sideways Racing) diced along with John Dean II and Joey Bickers with the kind of close racing that Global Mazda MX-5 Cup is well known for. As the checkered flag flew, Reger came home in second ahead of Rollan, polesitter Dean and Bickers for the top five.
“I wanted to lead on the last lap, but it’s a good thing I missed third gear on Turn One a couple laps before the yellow and that put us in second before the final restart,” Ortiz said. “I think if I was first, somebody would have drafted me on that last lap. It was a very crazy race. I was making a lot of passes and having a lot of fun, but definitely I wanted to win my first race here for everyone in Puerto Rico that have gone through a lot. The only thing I can say is: Happy!”
The 40-minute race was also the first to include both the Challenger Cup presented by Monticello Motor Club as well as Masters class, with Charlie Belluardo (No. 73 Flatout Motorsports) coming home with the Challenger Cup victory.
“It means a lot to win the inaugural event of the Challenger class,” Belluardo said. “I happen to be a member of Monticello Motor Club, so Ari [Straus, managing partner MMC] and the gang will be very happy! It was a great race with a lot of tough competitors. The team was awesome – Flatout Motorsports did a great job – and MX-5 Cup is the way to go!”
It was a double-podium performance for Slipstream Performance as Keith Jensen (No. 53 Slipstream Performance ) claimed the Masters class victory to go along with Reger’s overall second place finish.
“It’s wonderful and disappointing at the same time that my first podium ever in MX-5 Cup is in my first race of the fourth season and because it’s in the Masters category, but there are many great Masters drivers,” Jensen said. “I’m pleased and honored to have bested them because they are good friends, drivers and competitors and I’m happy to be here.”
Rollan, who paved his way into Global Mazda MX-5 Cup competition by scoring the Mazda Road to 24 shootout and $100,000 in support from Mazda, made an immediate impression as he held the lead for three laps and was a factor in the mix from start to finish. A final corner slide nearly tarnished a brilliant first race, but a fantastic save from Rollan protected a podium finish.
“I knew we had one lap to go on that restart and I knew I was a sitting duck,” Rollan said. “I had a really good restart, but the draft is so strong and he got me. We were side-by-side for the last few corners. I tried everything I could on the last turn and I don’t know how I kept it straight. Honestly, my heart stopped, but I’m all good now!”
His overall podium also earned him the most points among the large class of rookie runners, all of whom are hoping to claim the $75,000 scholarship offer from Mazda for the leading rookie.
The opening round of the Global Mazda MX-5 Cup saw 160 passes for position. Contributing greatly to the total was guest driver Eric Curran (No. 72 McCumbee McAleer Racing), who started 20th and finished 12th. The eight positions gained earned him the Battery Tender Hard Charger Award.
“This was a blast,” Curran said. “It was a little crazy at the start; I got hit in the back and spun sideways in the last corner, but got going and started to figure everything out. I only had a couple laps in the car prior to the race, but I kept getting better and started picking people off. MX-5 Cup is so much fun. Like everyone has been saying, John Doonan [Director, Mazda Motorsports] and the guys at Mazda are doing a phenomenal job.”
The race was streamed in its entirety on Mazda’s YouTube page, as will Sunday’s Round 2 race, scheduled to go green at 10:00am ET. Drivers will continue their quest for the incredible $200,000 prize from Mazda offered to the championship-winning driver.