Tight Racing Highlights Action again
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For the opening two rounds of the 2022 Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires season, the teams and drivers had to contend with difficult weather conditions at Daytona International Speedway. Thursday’s race was the 45-minute door-to-door sprint Mazda MX5-Cup is known for, while Friday’s race action was slowed by multiple full-course cautions.
The first Mazda MX-5 Cup race of the season was an exercise in car control. Rain and cold temperatures made for a very slick track and the 31 cars created a hazy cloud of mist as they took the green flag.
Tyler Gonzalez (No. 51 Copeland Motorsports) had a great start, from 12th on the grid to third by Lap 3, and would not let leaders Connor Zilisch (No. 72 Hixon Motor Sports) and Selin Rollan (No. 87 Hixon Motor Sports) get away. While that trio battled for position, MX-5 Cup regulars Michael Carter (No. 08 Carter Racing Enterprises) and Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering) were ready to pounce, as was Chris Nunes (No. 32 Formidable Racing).
The lead pack of six changed order at seemingly every turn as someone would slide wide or bring too much speed into the braking zone. The action paused midway through the race with a four-lap, full-course yellow.
Defending champion Gresham Wagner arrived on the scene after the restart and took the lead briefly but was issued a drive-through penalty for incident responsibility following contact with another car, dropping him out of the fight for the win.
Rollan retook the lead, but in a similar scenario to last year’s season opener, he had a big target on his back coming out of the final turn. Behind him, Gonzalez, Zilisch and Nunes fanned out at the last moment and the quartet crossed the finish line door-to-door.
Gonzalez beat the rest of the pack to the checkered flag by 0.062 seconds. Nunes was second, 0.002 seconds ahead of Rollan. Zilisch was a further 0.06 seconds adrift in fourth.
“I raced MX-5 Cup a little while ago in 2019 and this is my first year back,” Gonzalez said. “My boys at Copeland Motorsports really helped me out with giving me a great car that was fun in the rain. It is fun to be back with MX-5 Cup. There is always fun racing with the way Mazda has these cars set up.”
Despite a slight drizzle, all 31 Mazda MX-5 Cup cars started Friday’s race on slick BFGoodrich tires. Leading them to the green flag was the latest MX5-Cup Shootout winner, Zilisch.
Zilisch had no problem holding the lead through the first lap, but by Lap 2, Thomas had made his way into the lead with Nunes hot on his heels. That’s when the first of three full-course cautions came out for Carter, who made contact with the wall in Turn Four of the oval.
On the restart, Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance) moved into second and worked with Thomas to try and build a gap to the rest of the field. The pair didn’t even get a full lap of green flag before the full-course caution came out again, this time for a trio of cars tangled at the entrance to the newly renamed Le Mans Chicane. When the cars were cleared, the return to green was just as short, as the first restart as two cars came together in Turn 3 and were unable to continue.
Less than 10 minutes remained on the clock when the third full-course caution was issued, which wasn’t enough time to clear the cars in time for a restart. The win was sweet redemption for Thomas, who nearly won at Daytona last year but missed out because of a late full-course yellow.
“This feels great!” said Thomas. “I think we built off the momentum that we had last year, and it feels good to get one here at Daytona. Because, for one, you know, I felt like I had one taken from me last year with the caution. So, to win one under caution like that, I’ll take it. You know, you win some, you lose some.”
Leaving Daytona, Thomas leads the point standings ahead of Nunes and Rollan.
Rounds 3 and 4 of the Mazda MX-5 Cup season take place Feb. 24-26 at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida. The Daytona rounds may be viewed on demand on IMSA’s YouTube page.