IRVINE, California — Race fans are frustrated when they have a weekend without any action. This last weekend was NOT such a weekend with two of the biggest sports car extravaganzas taking place at two of the finest race tracks in the world – Road Atlanta and Road America. A total of 190 Mazda racers took part in 20 races at two tracks taking home nine wins. It was the best of professional road racing, and the largest gathering of grassroots roadracers in the country.
Many of the best professional road-racers in the world gathered at Road Atlanta for the 12th Annual Petit Le Mans Powered by MAZDA6 weekend. The weekend featured a total of nine series; Mazda was featured prominently in five of them. The week was hampered by the heavy storm that delivered over 20” of rain to the greater Atlanta area in just a few days.
• The American Le Mans Series (ALMS) Petit Le Mans (Round 9 of 10) – The second and final endurance race of the ALMS season is the 1,000 mile Petit Le Mans. As a part of the ongoing partnership between Mazda and BP to develop advanced environmental technology, one of the LMP2 Dyson Lola-Mazdas ran on biobutanol as a high speed R&D program, but was not eligible for official placement in the results. The other BP Dyson entry ran on the usual series spec E10 fuel. The Dyson driving team of Marino Franchitti, Butch Leitzinger and Ben Devlin started from pole, but had to overcome an early race gearbox problem before taking the lead which they held until the race was red-flagged due to severe weather conditions. The team had completed 427 miles at the time the race was called, winning the LMP2 class. The bio-butanol fueled car, driven by Chris Dyson and Guy Smith, ran trouble free and completed 449 miles. This was the first Petit Le Mans victory for both Dyson Racing and Mazda. Mazda is now the only Japanese automaker with wins at both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Petit Le Mans.
• SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championship (Round 9 of 10) – With only two races remaining in the series, and points leads in the drivers and manufacturers championship, strategy was key. Eric Foss, who already clinched the 2009 Rookie-Of-The-Year award, was the highest placed MAZDA6 in fifth place. Tri-Point Motorsports teammate Jason Saini finished in eighth place and extended his lead in the drivers’ championship to 54 points. Mazda leads Acura by just one point in the manufacturers championship with the season finale in two weeks at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
• Cooper Tires Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda (Round 11 of 12) -- Jonathan Summerton started from the pole and led every lap in the Newman Wachs Racing Nuclear Clean Air Energy/Entergy/NEI entry to move into second place, within seven points, 176-169, of leader Simona De Silvestro who finished the race in second place. John Edwards finished third in the race and is third in points just three behind Summerton.
• Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear (Round 12 of 13) – Irishman Peter Dempsey started from his fourth pole of the year and scored his fifth win of the year, leading green-to-checker in his Juncos Racing / The Collection / Motorsport Ireland / Queyside.ie Mazda. The win extends his slim lead in the heated championship battle and provokes an all-the-marbles shootout at the series finale in two weeks at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Dempsey has 444 points to Adam Christodoulou's 429; with 45 points remaining to be won in the final race (44 for a win and one for pole), the 2009 Star Mazda championship will be decided between these two drivers -- with Dempsey needing to finish only 6th or better to clinch the championship.
• BFGoodrich/Skip Barber Nationals Presented by Mazda (Rounds 11 & 12 of 14) – A doubleheader weekend with two races on the same day. Sean Rayhall won the Friday morning race with Sage Karam taking the afternoon heat. Series points leader Connor De Phillippi finished sixth and second and now has a strong 52 point lead going into their final race weekend. This is truly a battle of the youth – Rayhall and Karam are both 14-years old while De Phillippi is the “old man” of the trio at 16.
Meanwhile, a total of 575 club racers from across the country gathered at Road America for the 46th Annual Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) National Championships. Mazda was the dominant brand with 140 cars competing in 14 of the 25 classes. The Mazda highlights were many:
• Four race wins
• More podium finishes than any other brand (16)
• Most competitors of any brand (24% of total starters, up 2% over 2008)
• Racing in more classes than any other brand (14)
• More contingency paid than any other brand ($43,750)
The race by race rundown is as follows:
• Spec Miata – In just a few short years, Spec Miata has become the largest single make class in the world. 38 of the best Spec Miata racers in the country joined the action this weekend. The race was a typical Spec Miata affair -- passing, bumping, two wheels off, four wheels off, more passing – basically non-stop action from the front of the field to the back. When the checkered flag dropped the 2009 SCCA National Champion in Spec Miata was Steven Gorriaran. Steven had been the runner up in 2008.
• Formula Mazda – Juan Marchand from South Haven, Michigan won the pole and controlled the race to win by just over four seconds.
• Formula Enterprise – Among the newest of SCCA classes, all Formula Enterprise cars are powered by a Mazda MZR engine. Nick Evans from Powell, Ohio started fifth but quickly moved to the front to score his first championship.
• C Sports Racing – Matt Miller from Orland Park, Illinois qualified second but took the lead on lap one and led the remainder of the race. It was a close win for the Mazda MZR powered Elan sports racer.
• Touring 3 – Three Mazdas among 17 starters. Highest placed Mazda was the RX-8 of Lynne Griffiths in 11th.
• E Production – A favorite class for fans of the first generation RX-7 and the final race of the weekend. It was also the only race in the wet, as the rain hit Elkhart Lake at the start of the race. The all-Mazda front row of Jon Brakke and Jesse Prather both spun on the first lap as everyone struggled for grip. Wayne Graham, starting on intermediate tires, led early, but slid to third as the rain intensified. Aaron Downey also led in his RX-3 and ultimately finished second. Prather pitted for tires on lap two and recovered from 30th position to finish sixth in a race that was ultimately checkered two laps early due to the heavy rain and multiple cars off-course.
• F Production – A great race with battles raging throughout the field. Nine Mazdas from 29 entries. 2008 FP Champion Rick Harris came within 2.210 seconds of repeating his title. Harris, from Derby, Kansas earned his silver medal behind the wheel of a Mazda MX-5 Miata prepared by Prather Racing.
• GT-1 & GT-2 – A pair of David & Goliath battles for Mazda – RX-7 balance and handling against brute horsepower – a lone RX-7 in each race. Glen Jung finished 14th in GT-1 with Bill Allman scoring an eighth in GT-2.
• GT-3 – Mike Henderson and Robert Warkocki led the RX-7 competitors against rivals from Nissan and Toyota. Henderson led the opening laps and finished in second while Warkocki just missed the podium in fourth.
• GT-Lite – Four Mazdas among the 22 car field. Highest placed Mazda was Luis Rivera from Angleton, Texas in seventh place
• Showroom Stock B – Three Mazda MX-5 Miatas among the 21 entries. The highest Mazda finisher was Steven Taake from Spring, Texas in 15th.
• Showroom Stock C – Another strong showing for the MAZDA3 with Joe McClughan leading a Mazda 2-3-4-5 finish. Making McClughan’s silver medal run even more remarkable was the fact that he underwent open heart surgery just eight weeks ago. McClughan is already planning his 2010 season with a new MAZDASPEED3.
• Formula Atlantic – While the tube-framed Formula Mazda cars have a class of their own, the carbon fiber 240 hp Star Mazdas compete against the former generation Atlantic cars. The highest Mazda was Vince Gaddini in 11th. In 2010, the Swift 016.a Mazda MZR chassis will be eligible.
Nick Evans, Steven Gorriaran, Juan Marchand, and Matt Miller are now eligible for the fourth annual Mazda MX-5 Cup shootout. Since 2006 Mazda has hosted a shootout for a select group of national champions in the SCCA. The club racing champions from the SCCA, NASA, and Skip Barber, who were Mazda powered are eligible to enter the shootout. The winner of the shootout is rewarded with Mazda support to compete in the following season’s SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Championship. This is the single largest prize in club road racing and is valued in excess of $50,000. The past shootout winners were Andrew Caddell, Brad Rampelberg, and Justin Piscitell.
Mazda is the brand of choice for road-racers across North America. More than 9,000 grassroots racers compete in various classes with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the National Auto Sport Association (NASA). Racers who are years away from earning a driver’s license can now begin a professional motorsports careers in the Mazda family. A driver can begin in karts and progress through the Skip Barber series, Club Racing Formula Mazda, professional Star Mazda and finally to Formula Atlantic, all with Mazda. No other car company has ever connected the dots this way.
On any given weekend, there are more Mazdas on the road-race tracks of America than any other brand of vehicle. At the track, you’ll see MX-5 Miata, RX-8, MAZDA3, MAZDA6, RX-7 and other vintage Mazda models competing, because every Mazda has the Soul of a Sports Car. In fact, the largest road-racing class in the world is Spec Miata, with more than 1,500 first- and second-generation Miatas tearing up America’s racetracks, making it the most-raced production car in the world. Mazda’s involvement in motorsports extends to its relationship with Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, one of the world’s premier road-racing circuits, and the Skip Barber Schools for driving and racing.
Celebrating its 40th Anniversary in the United States in 2010, Mazda North American Operations is headquartered in Irvine, Calif. and oversees the sales, marketing, parts and customer service support of Mazda vehicles in the United States, Canada and Mexico through nearly 900 dealers. Operations in Canada are managed by Mazda Canada, Inc., located in Ontario; and in Mexico by Mazda Motor de Mexico in Mexico City.