The 2021 Global Mazda MX-5 Cup season is kicking off this weekend, racing ahead of the Rolex 24 at Daytona and managing to upstage the main series in its first race alone with a clusterfinish. The checkered flag fell to four cars going wide across the line and another four so close behind them they were all within half a second of each other in a drafting drag to the line.
Gresham Wagner eventually took the win, which isn’t that surprising if you also know he started from pole and absolutely no other facts about the race. With four minutes to go in the timed sprint, he’d been in fifth and would stay there until moving to third on the final lap, ultimately beating long-time leader and part-time NASCAR driver Preston Pardus’ cop-themed car.
Daytona has a tendency of extremely close finishes. The 500 had its closest ever in 2016 when Denny Hamlin edged Martin Truex Jr. for a 0.1-second finish gap. That’s not a ridiculous margin by IMSA’s standards, though; in the same year, after an entire 24 hours of racing, a Corvette took the top step of the podium by just 0.034 of a second. Single seaters like IndyCar and F1 don’t race at Daytona (anymore—IndyCar did do a one-off in 1959) but those are their kind of margins, not endurance racing in tin-tops.
The Global Mazda MX-5 Cup is a spec series that offers a $200,000 scholarship up the ladder towards competing in the Rolex 24 main event, all on a proper budget. Racing at extremely cool venues like Daytona means it lives up to the global bit of its name in terms of participants and it was inventing gamer-to-racer challenges way before all the FIA series got wind of what iRacing was.
Cars in any spec series should be close—that’s the point, since they’re equivalent machinery —but the kind of crowded, marginal finish in this race shows not just that the MX-5 makes a pretty cool, nippy race car but that there’s some seriously matched talent across the field. To get cars really close at Daytona, you have to slipstream and draft against each other, which means getting riskily intimate with your on-track rivals. You’d be forgiven for imagining a relatively amateur series might result in massive pile-ups.
In actuality, the only big mistake in this clip was a sideways off for Michael Carter, who saved a huge slide down the infield and then righted himself mid-pack, across the track, without getting dinged. Maybe not that surprising, given he got that big scholarship to race in 2018, but it proves a depth of talent that the field didn’t fold itself.
The final standings, across the line, have every point-scorer within a second of each other and the top eight within 0.4 of a second.
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