In the closest finish in Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires history, Jared Thomas (No. 96 Carter Racing Enterprises) earned his first victory by just 0.0009-second over Gresham Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance) at New Jersey Motorsports Park on Sunday. Robert Noaker (No. 13 Robert Noaker Racing/Slipstream Performance) retook the Championship lead with his run to third at the finish.
Thomas took his maiden Global Mazda MX-5 Cup victory in flag-to-flag fashion, but the lap chart doesn’t come close to telling the full story of another tight battle that the series has continued to deliver.
At the start Thomas led the field into Turn One followed by Wagner, Michael Carter (No. 08 Carter Racing Enterprises) and Noaker. Carter, who started second, was able to get back around Wagner, and the four pulled away from the rest of the field.
The quartet would stay like that until the final lap. After being glued to his teammate’s bumper the entire race, Carter made his move, diving to the inside of Thomas in Turn One. The move backfired, however, as Carter got up on the curbing, lost control and spun off-course.
“I knew Michael [Carter] was going to race hard at the end that is just how it is,” Thomas said. “It was kind of a late move and we had a little incidental contact.”
This promoted Wagner to second and Noaker to third.
Coming out of the final turn, Wagner saw his chance to take the win and pulled alongside Thomas. The two drag-raced to the finish line and crossed so close together that picking a winner by eye was nearly impossible. The timing screen said Thomas was the winner by 0.0009-second. It’s a new Global Mazda MX-5 Cup record that eclipses the previous mark of 0.017-second.
“It wasn’t easy,” Thomas said. “This track is really super hard on tires, so the key was to maintain the pace but not slide the car. I felt like we had the best car of that lead pack there. I focused on just not overdriving, the whole race, and keeping an eye on my mirrors to make sure no one dive bombed me. It was hectic the last 10 minutes; we had a car go off, there was maybe going to be a caution. But this feels great. I knew if we kept running like this, we would hopefully get one so this is awesome.”
Wagner was lucky to avoid the sideways Carter in Turn One before preparing plans to catch Thomas on the final lap.
“There was an opportunity or two in the middle of the race for me to try to get up to second,” Wagner said. “But with how well Jared [Thomas] and Michael [Carter] were working together I was confident that even if I got up there, they could reshuffle me back.
“I was kind of waiting. I knew that if I had a run in the last couple of laps that I’d try to leapfrog by both of them coming to the white flag. But I didn’t have the run, they were working well together. Then there was the incident on the last lap—I don’t think any of us were expecting that! But I saw it kind of develop so was able to stay clear. I had to check up and that gave Jared a bit of a gap, but I was able to draft all the way to the line to get close but not get by him. I’m excited for him to get his first win and I’m happy to bring it home in second.”
Avoiding Carter in Turn One cost Noaker some time to Wagner and Thomas, but a third-place finish puts him back atop the Championship standings, which comes with a $200,000 prize from Mazda.
“I saw the first couple laps that we’d opened up a gap to fifth place,” Noaker said. “I thought I’d hang there. I was biding my time. I saw them mixing it up in Turn One and it’s sad that Carter spun off the track.”
Leading the second train of cars was Selin Rollan (No. 87 Spark Performance), a full five seconds behind Noaker. Rollan had been battling with Robert Stout (No. 3 White Racing) for most of the race until Stout lost a wheel and came to a stop in Turn Six. Luckily, he was far enough off the circuit to avoid a full-course caution.
Luke Oxner (No. 77 White Racing) finished fifth, his second top-five finish in-a-row.
Carter recovered from his spin to finish sixth and set the fastest lap of the race, a 1:32.4147-seconds flyer to net one additional championship point.
The Hard Charger Award went to Kevin Conway who picked up five positions in the 45-minute race, going from 14th on the grid to ninth at the finish. It is Conway’s second Hard Charger Award; his first came in the season opener at Road America.
Round 10 of the Global Mazda MX-5 Cup at New Jersey Motorsports Park happens later today at 1:00 p.m. ET. Live timing and camera feeds will be available at http://www.mx-5cup.com.