Rounds Nine and 10 of the Mazda MX-5 Cup Series came to a close this weekend at the renowned road course of Road America, located in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Driver Dean Copeland had a great performance on his favorite track, finishing first in both races. During Round 10, Copeland made a great save after going over the curb in Canada Corner and injuring the car, resulting in the steering wheel being offset by almost 90 degrees, yet still managed to hold on to the lead and take the top step of the podium.
In the Skip Barber class, Drake Kemper finished first by fractions of a second, crossing the finish line a mere 0.007 seconds before Ben Albano. Kemper credits the win to a slight side draft when he and Albano touched mirrors as they raced to the finish. Calling it a close finish would be an understatement.
Looking back at the two rounds in combination with the venue, both races were extremely close, as many of the drivers had predicted after the practice days. Much of this can be accredited to the style of the cars in the MX-5 Cup Series, and the layout of the track, as mentioned in a previous article. The result is a scenario where cars can draft one another on Road America’s three long straights, and gain a significant advantage by doing so. Because of this, cars tend to bunch together in groups, all jockeying for position throughout the race. While it makes for an excellent race from a spectator’s point of view, it also gave driver an opportunity to work with each other during the race, allowing for a mutually beneficial gain.
Teamwork between drivers does not get much recognition in road racing because it’s not always seen. From the stands, it often appears that drivers are toe-to-toe in battle every time they pass by, but this may be far from the truth. Kenton Koch, the overall points leader in the MX-5 Cup Series, tells us that his second place finish on Sunday was largely due to him and Dean Copeland being able to work together and make their way to the front of the pack. When asked how he was able to move from a fifth place finish on Saturday, to second place on Sunday, he explained that in the first race, he had no one to work with and as a result, dropped from his starting position in pole to a fifth place finish.
As a learning experience for drivers, the double header at Road America provided a rare opportunity to experiment with multiple strategies in separate races, all on the same track and all within the same weekend. Aside from testing out different strategies, the need to work together with other drivers during the races also sets up a good foundation for working with teammates, if drivers continue on to other race in other series down the road. As many drivers will tell you, if you can’t be the one crossing that finish line first, the next best thing is to help your teammate do so. As drivers progress to higher levels of racing, the emphasis on cooperation between team drivers only increases, especially in series where manufacturers are awarded for success as well.
Overall, the weekend’s double header was a great chance for teams and drivers to run one of the faster tracks in the series, and learn how important it is to work with other drivers for a successful outcome. Both races kept fans on the edge of their seats, and put on a fantastic display of driver skill.
As the series moves toward the final race of the season at Road Atlanta, we can expect more close racing as Koch hopes to secure the championship in the Mazda MX-5 Cup this October.