Nail-biting finales are the norm for MX-5 Cup

Nail-biting finales are the norm for MX-5 Cup

The 2022 Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich will draw to a nail-biting close during the Motul Petit Le Mans weekend with two final rounds setting the stakes for what is likely to be a three-way title fight. Mathematically the current top six in the championship table are in with a chance, even if those bottom three will need to sweep the maximum points and require the top three to take little or nothing if it is to happen for them.

As exciting as it will be to follow the battle that is almost sure to go down to the last lap, given that the average margin of victory in 2022 has been a mere 0.683s, the phenomena is hardly new. In fact, since the inception of the MX-5 Cup in 2016, six of the seven, including 2022, have gone down to the final race weekend.

“It is remarkable indeed, but not to be confused with surprising,” says Jonathan Applegate, program manager for Mazda Motorsports. “The MX-5 Cup has proven to put the fate of race finishes over the years in the hands of the drivers. Instincts, race craft, finding the balance between reckless abandonment and complete control are the driver attributes that make MX-5 Cup so exciting, leading to four-wide photo finishes and season championships going down to the last race of the season year after year.”

The closest finish took place in 2020 when Michael Carter took the championship by a meager four points over Robert Noaker. Despite securing the maximum points by setting the fastest lap, leading the most laps and winning the final race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Noaker fell just short of overhauling Carter who hung on by battling an ailing car to finish in fourth place.

“We had a problem with the car on the first lap, and we thought it was the motor,” Carter said at the time. “I think it was some braking issues, like a caliper hanging. Then, it happened again after the first restart. I said this morning (in Race 1) I had never driven a race car that hard, but I think this race topped it. I had no brakes at the end, and I had to climb back to fourth just to get this championship.”

Michael Carter won the top prize in 2020 by just four points.

The previous year provided the next-closest finish. That time Bryan Ortiz came away with the title having only nine points in hand. He too had to battle through fraught moments to retain his lead if he was to hold on to the championship.

“The first race, we had a problem, but we worked hard for the second race,” Ortiz said afterward. “I didn’t know what to expect, but we had a great start and were able to stay in front of [Robert] Stout. It’s great to finish on the podium and secure this championship. We’ve been close before. This year it was very, very intense.”

Bryan Ortiz celebrates his first motorsports championship in the 2019 MX-5 Cup.

Last season’s finale was similarly dramatic. With tensions high, Gresham Wagner managed to secure the victory in weekend’s first race, meaning he only needed to finish in 11th place or higher to ensure the championship was his following Race 2. There were no guarantees, however. While title rival, and defending champion, Carter was doing all he could by leading the race, Wagner slipped precariously to ninth place at one point. Eventually he climbed back to sixth place while a closing-lap miscue by Carter forced him to relinquish the lead, and the title was indeed settled in Wagner’s favor.

As close as all those seasons were, the championship leader has stats on his side. Not a single championship leader was overtaken in the finale. That fact is unlikely to be a comfort to current championship leader Jared Thomas who holds a 55-point advantage with over 740 points up for grabs ahead of defending champion Wagner. But in a championship this historically tight, any advantage, no matter how slim is a good one to have.

Don’t miss the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Rounds 13 and 14, on Sept. 29-30. 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.

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