It was a record-setting day at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Saturday as fans on site and on line were treated to yet another dynamic round of Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich competition. The parity of the Global Mazda MX-5 Cup race car was demonstrated by close battles throughout the field in which several drivers made significant forward progress through 45 minutes of racing.
At the age of 14, Robert Noaker won his first Mazda Global MX-5 Cup race after climbing from 15th on the grid to make a winning pass on the final lap, becoming the youngest winner in Global Mazda MX-5 Cup history. Hernan Palermo and Robert Stout completed the podium after both drivers led the race at different stages.
Championship leader Nikko Reger in the No. 01 Slipstream Performance car looked to have a podium in his pocket on the final lap, but he caught the wrong end of the battle between Noaker and Palermo and was forced wide in the second-to-last corner. The lead pack streamed by and Reger, who is chasing the $200,000 Mazda Road to 24 Scholarship, had to settle for eighth.
Starting 15th on the 31-car grid, a win didn’t feel like a possibility for Noaker in the No. 13 Sick Sideways Global Mazda MX-5 Cup, but the young driver used previous experience at the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio track to manage his tires while picking his way through the field.
“I wasn’t expecting to win today – but I was hoping I would have a chance this weekend,” Noaker said. “I have done two weekends here at Mid-Ohio in Spec Miata. I was really trying to take care of my front tires because this track is really low grip, and a lot of the turns are downhill so you need to manage them.”
Aiding Noaker’s run to the front was a pair of full-course yellows that re-stacked the field as racing incidents eliminated championship contenders Bryan Ortiz, Todd Lamb and John Dean II early on.
With 10 minutes remaining in the race, Noaker had raced his way up to second and was putting pressure on leader Palermo. Noaker briefly took the lead, but Palermo took it back on the final lap in the braking zone of turn four. Noaker stayed with him and was exactly where he needed to be when Palermo made a mistake.
“On the last lap, going down in to Turn 4, I was being really defensive to protect the lead and Hernan out-braked me on the outside,” Noaker said. “From then on, I was asking myself if I should try a risky move, or if I should settle for second. But then going through Turn 11, he got sideways and that’s when I decided I needed to make my move.”
Noaker went through to the lead and took the checkered flag 1.2264 seconds ahead of Palermo. Palermo, in the No. 20 Slipstream Performance Global Mazda MX-5 Cup, fought from ninth on the grid to the lead before his battle with Noaker. Second place is a career-best finish for Palermo who also took top honors in the Master’s Class. The age difference between Noaker and Palermo: 30 years.
“Working with people really helps,” Palermo said of his strong performance. “You don’t need to pass a lot of people early on. And honestly, I spent a lot of time on iRacing.”
When Noaker initially took the lead from Palermo, it played right into his plans.
“The whole time I wanted to be second and make a last lap pass,” Palermo said. “It was going as I expected until I got wide in the second-to-last turn. I got a little loose right next to the wall and I couldn’t bring the car back on soon enough.”
Stout completed the podium in race one at Mid-Ohio. Stout was an early leader of the race, but tangled with Dean in Turn 4 at the 20-minute mark of the race. Sliding sideways across the track in the No. 28 McCumbee McAleer Global Mazda MX-5 Cup, Stout made a miraculous save that enabled him to stay in the race and fight back to finish third.
“That was an exciting one, to say the least,” Stout said. “I was getting a big-side draft from Dean down the straightaway. Once you touch in these cars though it’s easy for the cars to get sucked together. That’s how we continued NASCAR-style down the back straightaway until we both did 360 spins. Fortunately, we were able to pull off a top three still, but I think we could have been at least one spot higher, if not fighting for the win.”
Luke Oxner was another driver making big gains during the race. Starting 11th, the driver of the No. 77 White Racing entry climbed to fourth. He was followed by Mazda Road to 24 Scholarship Winner Selin Rollan in the No. 87 Sick Sideways Global Mazda MX-5 Cup.
In a race that saw a lot of drivers making forward progress, it was Brian Henderson who made the biggest advancement in the race. An issue in qualifying stopped him from turning a representative lap time, putting him 26th on the grid. When the checkered flag flew 45 minutes later, the No. 97 Atlanta Speedwerks driver was ninth. His forward progress earned him the Battery Tender Hard Charger Award, a cool $1,000 cash for him and his crew chief and a Battery Tender for each to take home as well.
“It was a good day,” Henderson said. “We had a fast car thanks to Atlanta Speedwerks. On the pace lap I knew I had a strong car and was going straight to the front. Hopefully we can get a little farther up there tomorrow.”
Finishing 14th, Ted Sahley took the Challenger Class presented by Monticello Motor Club win in his No. 55 Atlanta Speedwerks entry, though he will have to look to race 2 to pursue his ambition of cracking the overall top 10.
“It feels great being at my home track,” Sahley. “I’ve been looking forward to this race. We had some issues in practice. We made some changes right before the race and the car came to me. I think if we’d started closer to the front we’d have had a top-10 finish, but we’re still going for an overall top 10 tomorrow.”