Gresham Wagner’s fourth season in the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich could be his toughest so far. As the reigning champion, all eyes tend to be on him, but it’s less about that than the pressure he puts on himself.
“Yes, I feel more pressure on myself,” says Wagner. “Coming in as the defending champion there’s more expectation from others, but it’s mostly from myself, because I know what I can do.”
So far, Wagner’s title-defending season has been solid, but not perfect. Through the first six rounds, he’s scored a race win in addition to three other podium appearances, placing him third in the overall standings as the series heads to Watkins Glen International for Rounds 7 and 8, June 24-25.
He suffered a drive-through penalty during the opening weekend in Daytona that knocked him out of contention in the first race, but recovered with a second-place finish in the second race. The streets of St. Petersburg delivered a double-podium, while the win in Mid-Ohio’s weather-shortened, half-points first race was countered by a fifth-place finish in the second.
Knowing that ups and downs are inevitable in racing, the 24-year old from Williamsburg, Va., tries to keep it all in perspective.
“I always try to stay realistic, because you never know what will happen,” he says. “The level in the series is so high right now, certainly the highest it’s been since my first full season in 2019, so there’s no rest; we have to focus on getting points in the bag early. Last year we came from behind with three wins in a row to win the championship, but that’s not the ideal scenario.”
Wagner remains confident in his own abilities, and the fact that the team around him at Spark Performance has remained a tight-knit unit over several seasons helps a great deal. As well as racing in MX-5 Cup, Wagner also maintains a full-time career as a data analyst in the healthcare field for Gainwell Technologies. The focus and attention to detail required in that role seems to carry over to the race track
“We know what works. We aren’t guessing or searching for answers, so that’s not something we worry about,” Wagner says of he and his team. “The concern is around what we can’t control and the small margins. That’s something we can never be confident about. When there are only a couple of drivers in contention, it’s much easier to control the race, but right now there are several drivers in a position to win. No one is going to take it easy on each other.”
MX-5 Cup returns to upstate New York’s storied Watkins Glen for the first time in five years, and it will be a new experience for Wagner.
“I think it will race similarly to Road Atlanta or Sebring. There will be a lot of drafting in the first part of the lap before it gets tight and technical on the second part,” says Wagner, who’s looking to continue his streak of at least getting on the podium at every track. “I’ve set my bar pretty high. With two races each weekend, we’ve had one good race and one less good so far. We haven’t slowed down and, generally, when we get to the track as a team we have a pretty good racecar right out of the box. So, we just have to continue doing what we’ve always done, and not take anything for granted.”
Don’t miss the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich as it roars back into action for Rounds 7 and 8 at Watkins Glen International, June 24-25. All races are streamed live on RACER.com and archived on the RACER magazine YouTube channel. To view the full season schedule and learn more about the series visit www.mx-5cup.com.