First Races under IMSA Sanction See Typical Tight Competition
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires gave race fans a snapshot of what to expect from IMSA’s newest support series in its season opener at Daytona International Speedway. Bumper-to-bumper racing, last-lap passes and wild finishes were all on tap and available live on IMSA.com.
For the first 41 minutes of the first race on Jan. 28, the top four cars never traded places and never left each other’s bumpers. But in the final four minutes, it was impossible to predict who would take the win in a mad dash to the finish line.
Preston Pardus (No. 42 Hixon Motor Sports), Selin Rollan (No. 87 Hixon Motor Sports), Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering) and Michael Carter (No. 08 Carter Racing Enterprises) were in a four-car train until a late-race yellow bunched the pack and set the stage for a green-white-checkered finish.
The race pole sitter, Gresham Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance), had a bad start and fell all the way back to 12th, but had clawed his way back to the frontrunners just before the yellow. Wagner was immediately on the attack on the restart. At the white flag, he was past Carter and diving inside of Thomas to get to third.
As the pack of 26 cars exited the Bus Stop chicane and entered the high banks of Turn 4 of the DIS oval, everyone fanned out in a mad dash toward the finish line. When the timing screen refreshed, it was Wagner in P1 by 0.108 seconds.
"I couldn’t have predicted that!" Wagner said of the comeback win. "From dropping all the way back to then hanging out there behind the lead pack in no-man’s land for 15-20 minutes. … It was just a well-timed caution, a couple of good moves and then I got a big push, picked the right lane and got lucky at the end there and then brought it home. I wish I could say I made the right moves and had it all planned out, but it just happened to unfold the way it did."
The second 45-minute race on Jan. 29 was also impacted by a late-race, full-course caution.
Wagner started from the pole again, but this time held his ground ahead of Carter and Thomas. The trio gradually broke away from the rest of the field, making it a three-car race for the win.
With under five minutes left, a full-course yellow was needed to remove a damaged car from the course. Carter’s spotter saw the incident and immediately knew there was no possibility of the race staying green and that the clean-up would take more than the four minutes left on the clock. He radioed Carter, who made his move past Wagner into the Bus Stop. Seconds later, the yellow flag was out.
The race ended under yellow, with 2020 MX-5 Cup Series champion Carter taking the win.
"My spotter let me know there was going to be a full-course caution, and since I second-guessed my spotter yesterday when the green flag was called, I listened to him and I went," Carter said. Jared (Thomas) had no idea, Gresham (Wagner) had no idea. I was the only one who knew. Sure enough, as I was braking for the Bus Stop the yellow came out and there’s only about four minutes left, and that’s how it ended."
Finishing third in Race 2, Wagner took the lead of the MX-5 Cup championship with 690 points, 70 ahead of Thomas by 70 points and 110 better than rookie Sam Paley.
A one-hour recap of the Daytona doubleheader airs at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, Feb. 10 on NBCSN. Mazda MX-5 Cup returns to action at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, April 23-25. The races will again be carried live on IMSA.com and TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.