The Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires has consistently attracted young and upcoming talent, especially with the scholarships available from the Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout and the prize money available to the Rookie of the Year and Champion. That demographic is only half of the MX-5 Cup field, however. The rest is made up of established professionals, who just want to go racing and have a good time on the weekend.
The top 10 in the the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup are often running nose-to-tail for an entire race. The draft can be critical, photo finishes are common and rubbing fenders is all but guaranteed. It’s one thing to be doing it all for the big $250,000 championship payday, but what if you know that’s out of your reach and finishing in the top 10 is a good day, would you still do it? The answer from MX-5 Cup’s ‘weekend warriors,’ is a resounding ‘yes’.
Alex Bachoura (No. 33 Slipstream Performance) is in his seventh full-season of MX-5 Cup and Hernan Palermo (No. 20 Slipstream Performance) is in his sixth, having skipped 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. During the work week, Bachoura is an oral surgeon and Palermo is an optometrist, but for a few weekends a year, they’re racers.
The pair of Texans got their start in Spec Miata and were having fun but looking to take it to the next level.
“For somebody who is a professional and doesn’t do this for a living, this is the best thing you can do,” Bachoura said. “I like the competition a lot. I feel like, it’s amateur racing, but the talent pool in this series is very deep and I like the challenge.”
And a challenge it has been. The two have started in more than 100 races and though they’ve accumulated several Hard Charger Awards and a class win in ND1 in 2019, just one overall podium appearance is on record, in 2018, when Palermo raced his way to second place at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Neither seem bothered by it, because neither are motivated by trophies.
“For me, I race against myself,” Bachoura said. “I want to improve my driving. I try not to focus on results and more so on process, maximizing the car to the best of my abilities.”
That’s not to say they aren’t trying to get to that top step, though.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in a position to win in the past and lost it in the last corner in the past, so I’m very competitive, but there’s no way, as a 47-year-old, that I’m going to pick up a racing career at this point,” Palermo said. “I enjoy being challenged by younger talent.”
Every season a new crop of talent arrives to challenge the Bachouras and Palermos of the paddock who are having fun trying to beat them. MX-5 Cup offers a professionally run series with cars that put the racing in the drivers’ hands with remarkable parity of equipment, with events taking place on bucket-list tracks. And with the focus on cost containment that has been central to Mazda’s vision for the series, the entire field benefits from having an affordable way to improve their driving and test themselves against would-be pros. That’s why they keep coming back year after year.
“I think for pro racing, MX-5 Cup is the best bang for the buck,” Palermo said. “To go to the next level, you’re talking double or triple the finances of this series. I think it’s attractive for the quality of tracks, quality of events and quality of race craft from other drivers.”