Carter Leaves St. Petersburg with MX-5 Cup Points Lead
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Rounds 5 and 6 of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires saw plenty of championship contenders experience misfortune, except for Michael Carter (No. 08 Carter Racing Enterprises), who came away from the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with a win and the points lead.
Pole position for both races was the perfect way to start the weekend for Carter and was a sign of things to come.
Race 1 began Saturday morning with a brilliant battle between Carter, Selin Rollan (No. 87 Hixon Motor Sports) and Gresham Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance), with each taking turns at the front.
Temporary street courses are typically difficult to pass on, but the Mazda MX-5 Cup drivers once again defied expectations by exchanging positions lap after lap around the 1.8-mile circuit.
The lead trio soon pulled away from the rest of the field, but eventually became a duo when Wagner pulled his car onto pit lane with a broken drivetrain.
Drake Kemper (No. 99 Provision Motorsports) brought out the race’s only full-course caution when he went off course and into the Turn 4 runoff area. Kemper had to start at the back of the pack after a setback in qualifying. A brake issue, while battling for position, sent Kemper straight into the runoff, where he made contact with the wall.
The cleanup was lengthy, and when the green flag came back out, there was less than two minutes left in the 45-minute race, making for a one-lap sprint to the finish. Rollan had secured the lead over Carter before the yellow. He hit all his marks and Carter had nowhere to challenge. Rollan took his second win of the season by 0.530 seconds over Carter.
“I didn’t know until half a lap to go that it was the last lap,” Rollan said. “I just took a deep breath and thought, ‘If I don’t make a mistake, it’s mine.’ I’m so happy. The Hixon Motorsports/Autism Speaks car was on rails. It was great.”
Carter started from pole again for Race 2 later the same day. This time, he was able to open a comfortable gap to the rest of the field. But 10 minutes into the race, the car of Aaron Jeansonne (No. 24 Provision Motorsports) caught fire and brought out the race’s only full-course yellow. Jeansonne was able to pull off and exit the car.
When the track was clear and green-flag racing resumed, there was 26 minutes left on the clock. This commenced a hectic battle for second through sixth positions, which enabled Carter to once again pull away.
While scrapping for third, Wagner and Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering) made contact in Turn 2. Thomas spun and was lucky to not be hit by any of the cars packed up behind. Wagner continued on and Thomas dropped down the order, eventually climbing back to 16th place at the finish.
Rollan did not get a chance to challenge for a second St. Pete win. Contact with the wall in Turn 10 damaged his car and he parked in pit lane with 10 minutes left.
Up front, rookie Sam Paley (No. 28 McCumbee McAleer Racing) was ever so slightly chipping away at Carter’s lead, but eventually ran out of time. Carter took the win by 2.210 seconds over Paley, a mammoth margin of victory for MX-5 Cup.
“That was how you want them to go,” Carter said. “You want to sit on pole, lead every lap and win the race. We didn’t get that done this morning, but it was great to do that in Race 2. I worked my tail off to get that gap before the yellow and then when the yellow came out, I radioed, ‘I just did all that for nothing!’ But fortunately, when we restarted, they got to racing really hard and I was able to do it again. The last 10 laps, I was just taking care of everything as much as I could.”
Carter’s two poles, two fast laps, runner-up finish in Race 1 and win in Race 2 propelled him into the MX-5 Cup championship lead after six of 14 rounds. A recap of the St. Petersburg weekend will air on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET Wednesday, May 5.
The next doubleheader round for Mazda MX-5 Cup takes place May 14 – 16 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, part of the Acura Sports Car Challenge weekend featuring the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Both MX-5 Cup races will stream live on IMSA.com and NBC Sports Gold TrackPass.