The Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires season reaches its midpoint at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with Rounds 7 and 8 this weekend. Defending champion Michael Carter (No. 08 Carter Racing Enterprises) arrives to the IMSA event weekend with the points lead for the first time this season after a pair of podium finishes on the streets of St. Petersburg, something his rivals could not duplicate.
The St. Petersburg weekend caught out several championship contenders, including Gresham Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance) and Selin Rollan (No. 87 Hixon Motor Sports), who each accrued a DNF. Though this didn’t take either of them out of the top three in the points, it did shuffle the order. Wagner is now in second, 130 points behind Carter. Rollan, in third is another 200 points adrift.
“I think it is still early to say who is in or out of the championship hunt,” Carter said. “After all, we are not even halfway through the season and as we saw at St. Pete anything can happen to anyone! I am not going to worry about points until we make the trip out west to Laguna Seca in September. I do see Gresham, Selin and myself in the hunt, but I think it is too early to narrow it down to us alone.”
Indeed, with 350 points for a race win, it’s still very much anybody’s game. When there’s a championship prize of $250,000 from Mazda (and payouts through 10th place) on the line, nobody will be conceding an inch anytime soon.
Mid-Ohio may not have the concrete walls of St. Petersburg, but that doesn’t mean its any less treacherous. Even though passing can be tricky, the 2.258-mile road course is well-loved by many drivers. Mazda MX-5 Cup has witnessed many last lap-passes for the win at Mid-Ohio, but also plenty of last lap bids for the win that ended in the gravel.
“I think we could see anything at Mid-Ohio,” Carter said. “St. Pete left a lot of people still hungry for more. You could see some desperation from some drivers, but I guess we will just have to wait and see until the opening laps. Mid-Ohio is one of my favorite tracks, so I am looking forward to getting back there.”
Wagner is also looking forward to Mid-Ohio since it holds a lot of good memories for him.
“In my first season of MX-5 Cup, Mid-Ohio was the first track I went to where I was able to confidently drive the car at its limit and feel comfortable doing it lap after lap,” Wagner said. “I was able to get my first pair of podiums at the event in 2019, and I’ve had speed and success there on every visit. I got my first MX-5 Cup win at Mid-Ohio, along with other podiums and poles. The series was there twice in 2020, and I’ve also led more laps there than any other track (60+ I believe), so I’m always confident when we go to Mid-Ohio.”
You’ll find Rollan on the other side of the spectrum when it comes to opinions on Mid-Ohio.
“I’m not a huge fan of how the track races,” Rollan said. “There’s not too many opportunities to pass and it just doesn’t seem to fit my driving style. On top of that, I’ve had some bad luck there in the past. Last season we made a lot of improvements and I’m hoping to continue to improve to land our first win there. I’m super confident in our great team and car and I think we have what it takes this year.”
Speaking of bad luck, Provision Motorsports had all of it at St. Petersburg. In qualifying, a mistake by Drake Kemper (No. 99 Provision Motorsports) caused him to hit his teammate Aaron Jeansonne (No. 24 Provision Motorsports), damaging both cars and forcing them to start at the back of both races. Kemper’s car could be fixed, Jeansonne’s could not, and the team needed to borrow another car for race day.
In Race One, a brake problem sent Kemper into the wall, ending his race and his day. In Race Two, Jeansonne’s borrowed car caught fire and he retired early. The bright spot was Jeansonne winning the Hard Charger Award in Race One. The current Mazda Shootout Scholarship recipient picked up 11 positions during the race. The award came with $1,000 for Jeansonne and $1,000 for his crew chief.
Jeansonne is part of the rookie class battling for the $80,000 Rookie of the Year prize. Chris Nunes (No. 32 JTR Motorsports Engineering) currently leads in that category, but only by 100 points over Sam Paley (No. 28 McCumbee McAleer Racing). Jeansonne is then 90 points behind Paley.
Unlike the double-race day format for the MX-5 Cup visit to St. Petersburg last month, teams will be happy to know the schedule for Mid-Ohio has a little more breathing room. With qualifying slated for Friday, the Round 7 race is Saturday, May 15, at 11:15am ET and Round 8 takes place Sunday, May 16, at 11:45am ET. Both races will be streamed live on IMSA.com and NBC Sports Gold TrackPass with commentary from IMSA Radio.