Survival was the name of the game for Round Nine of the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich at Portland International Raceway on Saturday. Luke Oxner (No. 77 White Racing), driving for the two-car White Racing team, wisely navigated through two incidents in Turn One to take his first Mazda MX-5 Cup win ahead of leading rookie racer Selin Rollan, who finished second as Robert Stout crossed the finish line in third.
Starting from second, Oxner was initially concerned that he had a poor start that would rob him of his shot at a podium finish. As it turns out, it may have put him in exactly the right spot to avoid a multi-car collision in Turn One.
“Well right off the green flag, it was just so frustrating because I lost four spots right at the start,” Oxner said. “Then there was just some kind of chaos going on, people getting antsy and I managed to dodge them all.”
The opening-lap incident eliminated several cars from the race, including Bryan Ortiz (No. 4 Slipstream Performance) winner of the previous Mazda MX-5 Cup round at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Ortiz was forced to pit for repairs and rejoined a lap down.
After an extensive cleanup, green flag racing resumed with 32 minutes left on the clock. Oxner restarted in fifth. Ahead of him, Nathaniel Sparks (No. 8 Sick Sideways Racing) led Joey Bickers (No. 34 McCumbee McAleer Racing) into Turn One.
The field made it through the restart unscathed, but on the following lap, Bickers made heavy contact with Sparks at Turn One, stranding them both on the race track and bringing out a second full-course yellow.
Oxner was now up to third for the second restart, battling Robert Stout (No. 28 McCumbee McAleer Racing) and Mazda Road to 24 Scholarship winner Selin Rollan (No. 87 Sick Sideways Racing). Oxner took the lead with 12 minutes left in the race and defended all the way to the end, taking home his first MX-5 Cup victory and marking a great day for the White Racing effort.
“I was checking my mirror at the end for sure,” Oxner said of Rollan’s race-long pursuit. “I was just keeping focused and just tried to keep driving and not let it get in my head and managed to hang on and get it on the top step of the podium.”
Rollan, Stout and Nikko Reger (No. 01 Slipstream Performance) followed Oxner across the line, further tightening the Championship point standings as Reger unofficially continues to lead by eight points.
Another career-best day was had by Zach Lee (No. 48 McCumbee MacAleer), who not only won the Master’s Class for drivers aged 40 and over, but finished a strong fifth overall after racing in the top-three throughout the race.
“I have been pro racing since 1999 when I started racing motorcycles,” Lee said. “I have been trying to get a top five in pro racing for 18 years and I just did it. If there is any lesson to anybody about never quitting, that’s it. I am very proud of that top five!”
In addition to winning the Challenger Class presented by Monticello Motor Club, Charlie Belluardo (No. 73 Flatout Motorsports) earned his first top 10 finish.
“I was getting a lot of pick up toward the end, but the BFGoodrich tires held on to the end,” Belluardo said. “I can’t say enough about how much I love racing in Mazda MX-5 Cup and how talented this Challenger Class is. Thank you Monticello Motor Club and thank you Mazda.”
In keeping with the theme of career-best races, Racer Kashima (No. 7 Copeland Motorsports) earned the Battery Tender Hard Charger Award, picking up 13 positions en route to a 12th-place finish.
“It was a very fantastic day,” Kashima said. “In the past six races I have had a lot of trouble every session, but this time my luck changed. Our team had some trouble this morning with the transponder, but P25 to P12 is very nice for me and very nice for the team.”
Sunday’s Round 10 race will go green at 12:00 PM ET and be streamed live on Mazda USA’s YouTube page.