For myself and the Provision Motorsports team, 2021 has continued to be a season filled with successes and difficulties in the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup race series. Our misfortune at the St. Pete and Mid-Ohio races left us with a huge uphill battle to have any chance at the Rookie of the Year prize in this fiercely competitive race series, so we knew we had to be spot on for the rest of the year to get back in the running.
Fortunately, we had somewhat of a summer break leading to Road America, and I was very generously given the opportunity to contest a couple of Spec Miata events – one at Road America and one at Laguna Seca, both completely new tracks to me that would be coming up next on my MX-5 Cup schedule. The handling characteristics of the older Miata was very different to the cars we run in the MX-5 Cup series, but an opportunity to learn both tracks in advance was a luxury I have rarely had in my racing career. I also met some great people and had some on-track success in the process.
We showed up at the MX-5 Cup race weekend at Road America and immediately had good speed. After qualifying P4 and P3 for the two races, I had a difficult Race 1 in which a collision avoidance caused me to lose the lead draft and I had to settle with a P8 finish. In Race 2, however, we were able to run up front again and take home a strong P4 finish (half a second behind the race winner) with some passes that were “pass of the year” contenders.
I had a great opportunity before our next MX-5 Cup round at Laguna Seca to compete once again in a Spec Miata event at that track, this time coaching and racing for local team Slanti Motorsports. We had a very successful weekend in which I swept all four race wins (in two different classes), and the team gathered three additional podiums. The track time was very beneficial, so I had a lot of confidence as I prepared for the MX-5 Cup/IMSA race weekend.
In the meantime, during a short break in the schedule, I was a judge at this year’s Team USA Scholarship Shootout at Polecat Training Center in Tennessee. It was a great time at an impressive new race facility. I felt honored to continue to be a part of this Scholarship program, and help some of the most talented up and coming drivers in the United States.
When I arrived back in California, I quickly learned the MX-5 Cup car was a lot more difficult to drive at its absolute limit than the Spec Miata. Also, in the early morning first practice session, the track’s pace fell off quickly. I set my fastest lap on my second flying lap, but it was the third-quickest time of the session. We unloaded with great pace. After another successful practice session, qualifying would follow the next morning.
I am nowhere close to being a California native, but I actually had the largest group of support that I have ever had at a race event. Nearly the entire Slanti Motorsports team and other Spec Miata friends I had made over my previous Laguna Seca race weekends came out to support me. Some even made signs that they proudly waved from the grandstands. It was an exciting time for everyone, and gave me even more motivation to put on a great show for them. In a foggy, low-visibility qualifying, we were able to qualify on the second row for both races.
After an unlucky start to Race 1 in which I had several run-ins and near misses that caused me to fall all the way to P9 and far from the leaders, my team’s advice was simple. “You’ve worked harder than anyone for this. Take a deep breath, put your head down and show them why you’re representing the Mazda Soul Red colors. We believe in you.”
Although I was frustrated, I got my head down and focused on one car at a time. Our pace was incredible. I drove all the way back up as high as P2. By the end of the race, I had really used up my tires getting back to the front. The most I could get was a P3 podium finish (below), but the win was right in front of me!
This was an emotional moment for all of us. It was Provision Motorsports’ first podium, and my first in this series. We ended the previous race weekend at Road America with a strong result, and this was the second race in a row where I finished within about a second of the race winner. I also qualified in the top four in each of the last four races. Thanks so much to my team: Brooks Leal, Brad Little, Brad Sikorski and Drake Kemper for doing an amazing job in preparation this weekend. Without their dedication, the consistent performance we have shown wouldn’t be possible.
I do believe in momentum in racing, and we had it. Provision Motorsports was buzzing. We started Race 2 in fourth, and I felt we had as good a shot as anyone to win the race. Unfortunately, we had a sway bar link break on the pace lap, and our pace was far off from the start. After falling back a few spots, one of my competitors hit me hard in Turn 11, spinning me and causing more damage. After a short pit stop, I was determined to finish the race, but stay out of the way of lead-lap cars. Unfortunately, another driver spun me off the track after a late-race restart and I got stuck in the sand with more car damage. I love the close racing in the Mazda MX-5 cup series, but Race 2 was closer than I wanted!
It was a disappointing end to a great weekend, and will certainly make it even more difficult to achieve our goal of winning Rookie of the Year and the $80,000 prize that comes with it. But I have learned that racing will always come with several downs. If you can’t handle them, you can’t make it as a racing driver. I’ll keep fighting and try to find a way to come back strong for 2022! I believe a championship isn’t a far-fetched goal.
Next on the MX-5 Cup schedule is the season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in November. This is a track I know well, and the same track where I won the Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout last year. My goal is simple, I want to show up and win races to close the year out strong.
Thanks to everyone for your support. This year, I have met so many supportive and helpful people through racing. It has also been a great opportunity to work very closely with people I admire and respect. Despite all the difficult times, I reckon this has still been the best year of my life. And I can’t wait for the next one.