With eight drivers still alive for the Spec MX-5 Challenge Championship prize of $100,000 on Sunday morning, Peter Ensor erased all doubt by dominating the field, leading all 13 laps at Road Atlanta, and taking home the grand prize.
The championship prize boiled down to one race, with the regular season worth one-third of the points, and each of the two weekend races at Road Atlanta worth two-thirds of the final tally. All season long, each driver was placed in a randomly selected, identically prepared NC-generation Mazda MX-5, all on Yokohama Tires and Pagid Brakes.
Ensor, who entered the race needing to finish fourth or higher and stay in front of Tom Martin to claim the title, started on the outside of row one, jumped into the lead and officially stayed in front for all 13 laps.
It sounds simple, but it was anything but. Though Ensor sat on the point, no fewer than seven other drivers ran in podium positions and pushed the newly crown champion.
The final showdown boiled down to the last lap and, more specifically, Road Atlanta’s Turn 10 complex – identical to Saturday’s race.
On Saturday, Bruni entered the backstretch in the lead and was swallowed up when Martin followed Ensor through and to the checkered flag. On Sunday, Ensor was in front of Bruni and Martin in the identical location – and the three came out in the same order they entered, with Ensor just 0.128-second in front.
That was all it took for Ensor to claim the series’ inaugural grand prize, which can be applied to the 2019 Global Mazda MX-5 Cup and jumpstart Ensor’s professional career.
“It wasn’t easy, for sure,” Ensor said. “Everybody was right behind me, and I really had to work to stay in front. But I did what I wanted to do coming into the weekend — won both races and the championship.
“I have no words for it right now. Coming into this year, I had no idea what to expect. It turned out way better than I could have imagined.”
Bruni finished the season on a high note, standing on the podium in both championship weekend rounds. The runner-up finish on Sunday left him third in the season’s final standings.
“That was a fun race,” Bruni said. “I can’t be upset with second. It was a hard-fought battle to come from seventh up to second.
“These Mazda MX-5s are a lot of fun to drive. Not having the tops on the car makes it great for drafting and keeps it close. If you make a mistake, you can come right back and keep racing hard and have a shot at the end.”
Martin rode a typically stoic race, maintaining his pace in the early laps and waiting for the final stanzas to make his move. With plenty of other drivers ready to fight, however, it left him in a trailing position that he was unable to overcome at the checkered.
“It was a really tough race for me because I knew I had to keep my nose clean,” Martin said. “Pretty much everyone else in the race was just going for the win, so I was fighting for third and fourth place most of the race. I was just trying to get to the point where I was in touch with Peter so I’d have a shot on the last lap.
“I’m happy for Peter. He’s clearly a great driver, so I’m not frustrated to be beaten by him.”
John Allen finished one spot off the podium for the second consecutive day, ending the season on a high note in his iRacing/Defined Autoworks Mazda MX-5. Allen holds the fourth position in the season-long standings with his finish. Matt Million finished fifth on Sunday.
The Spec MX-5 Challenge is accepting applications and inquiries for the 2019 season at SpecMX-5.com. The Challenge is a fully prepped, arrive-and-drive series that includes an equally balanced NC-generation Mazda MX-5 from Atlanta Speedwerks and Winding Road Racing, Yokohama Tires, Pagid Brakes, fuel, entry fees, test day and more — all wrapped in a cost-effective financial package.
Unofficial results from Sunday’s 13-lap Spec MX-5 Challenge Race at Road Atlanta, with finishing position, starting position in parentheses, name and sponsor/car.
1. (2), Peter Ensor, Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
2. (7), Nick Bruni, Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
3. (3), Tom Martin, Winding Road Racing/WindingRoad.com Mazda MX-5
4. (5), John Allen, iRacing/Definied Autoworks/Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
5. (6), Matt Million, SCR Performance/Winding Road Racing Mazda MX-5
6. (4), Noah Grey, Winding Road Racing Mazda MX-5
7. (9), Jason Connole, Protech Bedliners/Trimark Digital/Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
8. (1), Manny Martinez, Island Motor Cars/Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
9. (8), Harry Voigt, Winding Road Racing Mazda MX-5
10. (12), Tyler Harrell, JTC Racing/Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
11. (11), Jose Garcia, KEEM Corp./Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
12. (10), Assen Rachev, Stable Energies/Possien-Hall Motorsports Development/BGN Racing/Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5