With bumper-to-bumper racing through the field and a close finish, the first Ricomotech iRacing Global Mazda MX-5 Cup race had a strong resemblance to its real-life counterpart. After 40 minutes of green flag racing at Barber Motorsports Park, it was 2016 Mazda Road to 24 Shootout winner Matt Cresci who took the win on Tuesday evening.
With a strong 35 car field that included three former Battery Tender® Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires® Champions, it was one of those champions setting the mark early as Patrick Gallagher (No. 29 McCumbee McAleer) started on the pole, next to Cresci (No. 59 Slipstream Performance).
Gallagher held steady in the lead for the opening laps, but it was another former Shootout winner, Glenn McGee, who had a tremendous start, picking up four positions on the opening lap in the No. 23 Sick Sideways Racing entry. McGee went from eighth to fourth and into the lead pack.
On lap 11, Gallagher finally succumbed to Cresci’s pressure. At the halfway point of the race Cresci led Gallagher, Gresham Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance), McGee and Harry Voight (No. 21 Slipstream Performance). With just 10 minutes left on the race clock, Gallagher had contact with a lapped car, which sent him spinning into the gravel.
In the final laps, Wagner was able to break away from a three-car fight for second place and chase after Cresci. He closed the gap, but not by enough: Cresci won by 0.600-second and pocketed $110 for the win.
“The first couple laps I was just following Patrick [Gallagher] around, trying to save my tires,” Cresci explained. “He got a bit loose, so I got by him. From there he had an incident with lapped traffic, so I got a two-second gap to work with, but my tires were shot. The second half of the race was like driving on ice skates and I was just trying to manage the gap to the fast guys behind me.”
Wagner was in the mix up front for the whole race but struggled to find a rhythm when fighting for second.
“Overall, I tried to be steady through the middle part of the race and try to work my way to the front,” Wagner said. “Unfortunately, there was an incident where Patrick [Gallagher] got taken out and I don’t think anyone wanted to see that. We recovered and tried to catch back up to Cresci after he pulled that gap, but it took a little too long to get back into a rhythm. I just ran out of time at the end. I’m happy with the race-it was fun from my point of view and I’m sure everyone else up front had a good time too.”
Coming into the first MX-5 Cup eSeries race, McGee was a favorite to take the win considering his extensive background in sim racing. In fact, that’s what got him into the real MX-5 Cup series via the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout. He only managed eighth in qualifying, but took the final podium spot.
“In the MX-5 Cup series, there are some of the best, most talented drivers around,” McGee said. “Not only are they fast in real life, they are super fast in the sim as well. It was a really tough race. I probably should have practiced more, but instead I took a nap. That may not have been the best idea!
“I had a terrible qualifying, but an exciting race. I had really good pace while I was running to the front, but I kept missing shifts here and there and that cost me time and positions.”
Harry Voight (No. 21 Slipstream Performance) was part of the battle that allowed Cresci to pull away from the field. He just missed the podium, finishing fourth.
Finishing fifth, but putting in perhaps the drive of the race was Brian Lockwood in the No. 43 Sick Sideways racing entry. Lockwood was a contender for the win early on, but a drive-through penalty dropped him way down the order. Amazingly, Lockwood was able to charge to the finish with the fastest lap of the race and fifth place.
Drivers will continue their quest for the $1,500 championship purse in the next round at Circuit of The Americas, Tuesday, May 12 at 8pm ET. The race will be streamed on the Mazda Motorsports Facebook page and on ApexRacingTV’s YouTube channel.