BFGoodrich Tire advertisements ask if you are “driver enough,” and the field of Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires drivers answered with a resounding ‘yes’ as they staged a thrilling race in changing and challenging conditions on Sunday at the Circuit of The Americas.
A heavy mist blanketed the 20-turn, 3.431-mile road course Sunday morning, prompting race officials to declare a wet race start. Teams immediately changed to BFGoodrich g-Force wet tires, but could elect to change back to slicks after taking the green flag should the conditions change.
Selin Rollan (No. 87 Sick Sideways Racing), who finished second in Saturday’s race, was hit with a penalty moments before the race started after his team was still working on the car on the pre-grid. The infraction put Rollan to the back of the 32-car field for the start. Despite this major setback, Rollan raced his way forward in the tricky wet conditions and was battling with the lead pack by the race’s halfway point.
“People were being cautious, and I couldn’t be cautious,” Rollan said. “I had to go forward and once I saw the front of the pack I thought ‘wow, I’m actually catching them’ and I caught them even before the double yellow, and I ran everyone down. These BFGoodrich rain tires are amazing, they are great, they stick.”
Polesitter and Saturday’s race winner Bryan Ortiz (No. 4 Copeland Motorsports) led the field to the green flag and held the lead for 10 laps. Just before the race’s only full-course caution, Rollan took over the lead. The race restarted with less than six minutes left on the clock.
“I needed a good restart like I did yesterday and I didn’t get that – pretty much got sideways out of the last corner trying to get a good jump!” Rollan said. “He (Ortiz) got by me. But I knew I was faster than him in the corners in the rain. I got a good run out of the last hairpin and was able to defend so he wasn’t able to put a fender on me and it worked out – I still can’t believe this.”
Rollan, the current Mazda Road to 24 Scholarship winner, took victory over Ortiz by 0.132 seconds.
It was a deja vu moment for the two, who finished in the opposite order after a last lap shootout in Saturday’s race.
“I tried to see if we could do the same thing as yesterday,” Ortiz said. “I stayed behind the lap before, so I could be behind him on the last lap. Robert [Stout] tried to pass me, so Selin got a good gap. We were able to catch him. He blocked me a little bit to save his spot and I didn’t want to drive dirty after such a clean race. Hopefully this marks a good start to the season and we can keep going forward and win the championship.”
Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Robert Stout (No. 28 McCumbee McAleer Racing) completed the podium in third after some hair-raising sideways moments on track.
“The conditions were fun – I love racing in the rain,” Stout said. “I did well at Watkins Glen and Indy last year in the rain. My biggest mistake was the start and was missing third gear. So I don’t even know where I was, seventh or eighth, and I just came back picking away at them. There’s not a doubt that I probably had one of the best handling cars on the track, so it’s kind of frustrating – I’m happy with it, I’m happy with a podium, that’s all I want to do this year is podium to death – but I was faster than the two guys in front of me but I wasn’t in a position to get around them.”
Of all the outstanding drives in the wet, 14-year-old rookie Ryan Noaker’s (No. 13 Sick Sideways Racing) run from 21st to ninth was the one worthy of the Battery Tender Hard Charger Award.
“I’ve always been good in the rain, even in karts,” Noaker said. “That’s how I got my first win in NASA and I actually started from second-to-last in that race. I’m definitely looking forward to the rest of the season. It was really fun racing. It’s different from anything I’ve raced before and the drivers are really good.”
Charlie Belluardo (No. 73 Flatout Motorsports) claimed his second-straight victory in the Challenger Cup presented by Monticello Motor Club. Belluardo finished 17th.
Masters class honors went to Todd Lamb (No. 84 Atlanta Speedwerks) who finished just off the podium in fourth after starting 11th.
Saturday’s opening round saw 160 passes for position and the field was no less busy in the rain, as Sunday’s race recorded 159 passes made in the 45-minute contest.
The series will host rounds 3 and 4 at Barber Motorsports Park on April 20-22 as part of the Verizon IndyCar Series event weekend. Drivers will continue their quest for the incredible $200,000 prize from Mazda on offer to the championship-winning driver.
Replays of both races are available on the Mazda USA YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/mazdausa/featured