Racers like John Dean II, Mark Drennan, and Robby Foley – all of them gun drivers in this year’s MX-5 Cup series in the United States.
Dean, for example, is the defending MX-5 Cup Champion. That championship earned him a Mazda Road to 24 scholarship valued at US$200,000 - along with the right to race the latest ND Series MX-5 Cup car. He’s also the most successful racer in MX-5 Cup history.
Drennan is currently top Rookie in points this season after multiple podiums and two wins, while holding down seventh place outright.
Foley won last year’s Skip Barber MazdaSpeed Pro Challenge, which also earned him a Mazda Road to 24 scholarships worth $100,000 and the right to race a Mazda Soul Red MX-5 Cup car.
In fact, every one of the ten race drivers from the United States is worthy of a special mention. And that’s before we get to other eight International racers, all fast and all hungry for a podium at the first ever Mazda MX-5 Cup Global Invitational meet.
We, on the other hand, only arrived here a few days ago, armed with a day’s testing at Victoria’s Winton Raceway and a handful of laps at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in a production car.
Prior to full-blown racing on Saturday and Sunday, there are two practice sessions before qualifying, each period lasting 30 minutes. Well... that’s what the schedule said.
After lining up near turn 11, and waiting for the 'go' signal before entering the track – disaster. Acrid Smoke filled the cockpit, requiring a quick flick of the ignition switch to 'off'. The race stewards ordered the car pushed out of the queue, while the Meathead Racing Team guys swapped out the faulty battery.
Valuable practice laps were now gone forever, there are no makeups in the motor racing world. Eventually, we got the all-clear and managed to squeeze in seven laps – mind, not particularly fast laps, as it turned out.
The top four drivers were lapping in 1:41s, while we were struggling to get below 1:55 – until a video review session, with one of the quickest drivers in the business, Kenton Koch.
Koch is the 2016 LMPC Rolex 24 Hour Daytona winner. He’s also leading the North American Endurance Championship.
In 2015, he competed in the Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda, scoring 11 wins from 14 races.
In 2014, he ran in the Mazda MX-5 Cup, finishing the season with six wins of 12 races and nine poles with three track records. And that’s not the half of it. Suffice to say, this guy can drive.
In just 20 mins, Koch dissected each and every one of Mazda Raceway’s 11 corners using footage from the GoPro camera mounted to our number 75 MX-5 Cup Car. When Kenton says brake late at turn two – you do just that.
It’s difficult to remember all the instructions, but that didn’t matter - in the second practice session, we wiped three seconds from the previous best lap for a 1:52.395 and gained a lot more confidence.
In qualifying, I was looking for another two or three seconds, but after a series of events - including a nasty accident requiring a red flag - the session was cut short, with no real chance to shave a second or two off our best time.
That's it, for now. Race one is tomorrow, and it’s a rolling start of 45 minutes’ duration.