Unlike any other racing event, an Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Race all comes down to the driver. With identical cars on the track, a driver’s connection to the vehicle and their race craft can either set them ahead of the pack — or drastically behind.
A Race Through the Last Second
“Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup has delivered some of the most entertaining and close racing in all of North America this year,” says Mo Murray of Mazda Motorsports. “The first race at Daytona saw eight cars cross the finish line in a tight bunch, with the top ten crossing the line within one second of the winner.”
These narrow margins mean the results of an MX-5 Cup race can change in the blink of an eye. “At Sebring, the top three were separated by 0.013 seconds with a winning margin of 0.001 seconds between first and second.” The combined winning margin for all six 2021 races to date — a total of 270 minutes of racing — is less than four seconds.
According to Loni Unser, who is the first female driver in series history to score back-to-back top ten results on an MX-5 Cup weekend, “This is a driver’s series and to win you have to be one with these cars.”
Level Playing Field
What truly sets a MX-5 Cup race apart is the parity and accessibility. “The cars are all identical and all built by Flis Performance in Daytona Beach Florida,” says Mo. “This means the car that finishes last is identical and equally capable as the car that wins, meaning the driver is all that matters.”
For Loni, this level playing field adds to both the challenge and her determination. Describing the races as “extremely competitive,” she notes that drivers are pushing their cars to the limit — so honing your race craft and bringing your a-game is the only way to win.
“You can really tell that these cars were designed with such care for the driver and the drivers’ experience. You can’t describe it another way than being “one with the car.”
“When you’re going into a corner these cars like to slide for a bit and then it will, what we call in the racing world, ‘take a set.’ That’s when it really digs in and makes the turn. It’s what every driver wants.”
Another equalizer in the MX-5 Cup series is the overall cost of competing, which is relatively low and therefore accessible to many more drivers than other series. “The incredible prize money on offer from Mazda means a successful driver can actual pay for his or her season,” says Mo.
With $250,000 on the line for the series champion and over twice that in total prize money, the stakes are high.
Upcoming Event: Mid-Ohio
“Mid-Ohio is one of the most iconic road courses in the U.S. and has been in use since 1962. It is renowned as a tricky, technical track with few passing opportunities; but one that is very rewarding for drivers who master its twists, turns and elevation changes,” says Mo.
This description rings true for Michael Carter, who was the 2018 Mazda scholarship winner, 2019 Rookie of the Year, 2020 champion and is the current points leader. Involved in racing since the age of five, he saw the MX-5 Cup series as a unique opportunity to enter the world of professional racing while still going to college.
He notes that having raced this track numerous times, Mid-Ohio is one of his favorites to drive — but least favorite to race.
“It’s because it’s so hard to pass. Really there’s only one area in my book to pass. Maybe two, but in my book, there’s only one,” says Michael. “You have to be fast and in order to win you have to be perfect.”
“Our races are always the best races of the weekend — I think everybody agrees with that,” laughs Michael. “Even with Mid-Ohio being a hard track to pass, we do find ways to pass and they’re usually interesting. It’s always an exciting race.”
How and When to Watch
With its thrilling, last-second wins, daring passes and emphasis on race craft, the Mazda MX-5 Cup series is on the rise.
For the first time, the series now has a TV package that includes live streaming on IMSA.TV and NBC Track Pass as well as recap show on NBCSN. “With two full-time female drivers and a broad age range among its drivers, fans are discovering just how exciting and accessible this racing is,” says Mo.
“The doubleheader format of two 45 minutes races per weekend also allows fans to engage and enjoy MX-5 Cup racing without the commitment of longer-form endurance racing. And that increasing fan engagement married to the tremendous entertainment provided by super close racing is contributing to a growing community of Mazda MX-5 Cup fans at tracks and on social media.”
With Loni looking to podium and Michael focused on defending his 2020 championship, the races at Mid-Ohio are sure to be highly competitive.
Join the excitement and watch Loni, Michael and more take on the iconic Mid-Ohio course May 15th and 16th.
For more viewing information and other updates, visit the MX-5 Cup site.