Imsa Sebring 2021

Mazda MX-5 Cup Takes Thrill Show to Streets of St. Petersburg

Series Returns to the Florida Circuit just Six Months after Finishing the 2020 Season There

The Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires is making waves in the motorsports world with its incredibly close racing, and this week the spectacle arrives at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The concrete walls and compact schedule will test each team’s performance under pressure.

It wasn’t long ago that the Mazda MX-5 Cup was in St. Petersburg, as the series raced to a championship-deciding close on the Florida street circuit last October. The championship was decided by just four points in favor of Michael Carter (No. 08 Carter Racing Enterprises), who won the first race of the weekend and finished fourth in the second race to lock in the title and $250,000 prize on offer from Mazda.

Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires: St. Petersburg Entry List

The reigning champion has already won this year in the second race of January’s season-opening doubleheader at Daytona International Speedway, but he comes into the St. Petersburg event trailing Gresham Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance) by 150 points.

Wagner is the only repeat winner so far in 2021 and has a score to settle with the streets of St. Pete. Last year, his engine expired on the formation lap of the first race and thus prevented him from taking part in the second race. Though he qualified on pole for both races, he never turned a race lap.

“I don’t think anybody is owed anything in racing, but I was definitely excited when St. Pete returned to the schedule,” Wagner said. “I loved the track and was really looking forward to the races last year, so I’m looking forward to getting back on track and going after the wins I feel like I was headed toward last year.”

The winner of the epic three-wide finish last month at Sebring International Raceway, Selin Rollan (No. 87 Hixon Motor Sports) loves street courses but loves the St. Petersburg street course in particular because he frequently flies into Albert Whitted Airport, a runway of which makes up the St. Pete track’s front straightaway. He is currently third in the point standings.

“It’s a smaller airport, so it’s only prop planes and no jets,” Rollan said. “It’s on the water and there’s a nice restaurant in the airport terminal that has a balcony to watch the landing and departing planes. Just the fact that we race there once a year makes it a special place for me!”

Even drivers who’ve never raced a street circuit before are eager to get on track in St. Petersburg.

“I am really excited for St. Pete because every single person I have talked to about racing street circuits says they are an absolute blast,” said Loni Unser, driver of the No. 92 Hixon Motor Sports car. “I also like how there is no margin for error. I can’t wait to hear the sound the track makes while we are driving as well.”

Series official, coach and test driver Tom Long noted that the concrete walls aren’t the only thing keeping drivers in check at St. Petersburg.

“Not only is the St. Petersburg street circuit tight, but so is the schedule,” Long said. “The teams will practice and qualify on Friday, then have both races on Saturday. There is truly no room for error in Race 1, since one mistake in that race can erase any hopes of starting Race 2.”

Both of Saturday’s MX-5 Cup races will stream live on IMSA.com and TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. Race 1 is set for 8:35 a.m. ET and Race 2 will start at 4:20 p.m. A recap of the race weekend airs at 3 p.m. ET Wednesday, May 5 on NBCSN.