Echoing his race win two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Michael Carter (No. 08 Carter Racing Enterprises) vowed after a disappointing Race One, that Saturday’s Race Two would be different. And just like the previous Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires event, he went on to win.
Selin Rollan (No. 87 Spark Performance) and Jared Thomas (No. 96 Carter Racing Enterprises) completed the podium. Mazda has a long history of supporting talented racers, and the podium reflected that with all three drivers having matching firesuits on the podium, because they are all Mazda Road to 24 Scholarship winners: Rollan in 2017, Carter in 2018 and Thomas in 2019.
Saturday’s 45-minute race started similarly to Friday’s, with Robert Noaker (No. 13 Robert Noaker Racing / Slipstream Performance), Gresham Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance), Carter and Rollan breaking away from the field early. Wagner and Noaker exchanged the lead repeatedly until a full-course caution for John Geesbreght (No. 68 Migliore Motorsports) stuck in the gravel at Turn Three slowed the action.
When racing resumed, what was a pack of four cars out front became a pack of seven. As Wagner and Noaker continued to trade the lead, behind them Carter and Rollan were under attack from Thomas for the final podium spot.
With six minutes left on the race clock, Alex Bachoura (No. 33 Slipstream Performance) slid into the gravel trap at Turn Two and pitlane held its breath, wondering if the safety car would be deployed and end the race under yellow.
Bachoura had been in the midst of one of his best races, running strong in sixth, before contact with Robert Stout (No. 3 White Racing) put him off track. Bachoura seemed to be determined to not let the race end under yellow and carefully extracted himself from the gravel just in time, so the race could remain green to the end.
“I was having a really good run and felt really good in the car,” said Bachoura. “I was racing with a lot of good, fast guys so I’m disappointed that I got knocked off, but even with how it ended up, I’m happy with the race and I’m glad I was able to get the car restarted to keep going!”
Bachoura wasn’t the last car the Turn Two gravel would see; on the final lap, Wagner made a move inside Carter for the lead. Noaker saw this as an opportunity for him to potentially take the lead as well and made it three-wide. Contact between Noaker and Wagner resulted in Wagner taking an off-course excursion.
The contact paved the way for Rollan to take up second and Thomas to mount his challenge for third.
Carter led Rollan across the finish line by 1.0072s, while Noaker and Thomas drag raced out of Turn 13. Noaker took the checkered flag in third, but after the race, was issued a 30-second penalty for the contact with Wagner. This promoted Thomas to the final podium spot.
After the race, Carter was in awe of the incredible final laps.
“Man, what a wild race,” Carter said. “I think everyone’s game plan was to race Noaker as hard as possible – we didn’t let him breathe at all. Me and Gresham (Wagner) worked really well together. Once we were running first and second I tried to make a couple moves on him and put the pressure on. We were able to keep that gap. My dad told me two laps to go, and I knew I didn’t want to make the move yet, because I knew they were going to pass me right back. We had that incident coming into the keyhole which was unfortunate but luckily we had a big enough gap to the pack behind us which allowed me to walk away with the win.”
The win, combined with Noaker’s 14th-place finish, has moved Carter into the provisional championship lead by two points over Noaker.
Though he was fighting to stay on the podium for most of the race, the last lap incident allowed Rollan to slide into second.
“Just like yesterday, it was really tough to pass, so when you had the opportunity, you had to go for it,” Rollan said. “Unfortunately, when you make a pass here, there’s going to be a little bit of contact. Up in the front of the pack, we don’t really give an inch, so there’s going to be some mirror and wheel touching. I had a really good battle with Jared Thomas. The top three were getting away but they were driving real rough with each other. Unfortunately, my teammate got taken out at the end there, we did get a podium out of it, but you never want to see that happen to your teammate.”
Thomas had a fantastic start, but it was the full-course yellow that put him in position for a podium finish.
“This weekend we struggled a little bit in qualifying,” Thomas said. “It’s a tight field; three and a half tenths off, and we were eighth place! I got up to fifth on the first lap and then I was hoping that those guys would start racing a little bit so I could catch up, but they were pretty disciplined and stayed in a straight line. Then the yellow came and that was exactly what I needed because I knew we could run with them.
“On the restart, it was pretty hairy,” the rookie continued. “I was able to get up to fourth. I was going back and forth with Selin [Rollan], and then with all that drama on the last lap I was able to come home in third. It is a great way to end the weekend, to be on the podium, and now I’m looking forward to New Jersey.”
Luke Oxner (No. 77 White Racing) and Justin Piscitell (No. 9 Maverick) both had their best races of the season thus far, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.
Wagner was able to recover from the Turn Two incident to finish sixth. Behind him was the race’s Hard Charger: Peter Ensor (No. 49 Atlanta Speedwerks). Ensor made up six positions in the race.
The next round of the Mazda MX-5 Cup takes place at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, New Jersey, October 9-11.