After a winless streak that lasted more than a year, Selin Rollan (No. 87 Hixon Motor Sports) made his return to the top step of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires podium at Watkins Glen International. He started and finished the race at the front of the field, but it was not an easy drive to victory lane. Robert Noaker (No. 13 Robert Noaker Racing) and Thomas Annunziata (No. 10 Hixon Motor Sports) in the Round Eight race.
Rollan may have started and finished the 40-minute race at the front of the field, but it was by no means easy.
The race got off to a dramatic start as a three-wide scramble at the top of the high-speed Watkins Glen Esses saw Matthew Dirks (No. 76 McCumbee McAleer Racing) get sideways and into the path of the ensuing field. Seven cars were entangled in the incident with no way to avoid contact.
One of the cars caught up in the mayhem was guest driver James Hinchcliffe (No. 3 JTR Motorsports Engineering), who had started eighth. The IndyCar veteran was able to sneak through but damaged the left side of his car. During the safety car period, the car’s rocker-panel started to drag and he was called into the pits by race control to remove the debris. He rejoined at the back of the field.
After a lengthy caution period to clean up the debris, Rollan led the way to the restart, but was freight-trained by a pack of cars and fell to fifth.
Reigning series champion Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering) and 2022 champ Gresham Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance) then took over the fight for the lead. The pair seemed to be creating a gap to the rest of the pack until Wagner had a big moment through the grass in the Bus Stop. From then on it was a five-car battle for the win.
Rollan benefited from having teammate Annunziata join the lead pack with four laps to go. The two worked together to carve a way through the competition and eventually to the front.
Wagner would not give up his shot at a win easily. He dispatched Annunziata quickly and made every attempt at passing Rollan on the final lap but couldn’t make anything stick.
Rollan took the win by 0.062-second after drag racing Wagner to the finish line.
“It feels really, really great to be back up on the top step of the podium,” Rollan said. “We haven’t had the best year—it has been a good year as far as being consistent, and being in contention, but we just haven’t really been all the way up there. I’m really happy to get my first win of the season and to get Austin Hatcher Foundation into Victory Lane here.”
The 2018 MX-5 Cup Rookie of the Year was quick to thank his team for the overnight repairs made to his car following a big hit in Friday’s race.
“I’m thankful for Hixon Motor Sports, the whole crew, my dad, everyone on the team stayed late into the night last night to get this car ready to race after the crash. I am sorry Brian [Hixon] and Karen [Hixon] weren’t here, but thanks to them and Shea [Holbrook] and everyone working on this team. I had a lot of help to get to the win—a big thank you to Thomas [Annunziata] for all the pushes, that was really selfless of him. We worked together and both got decent finishes, and I’m looking forward to keeping this going!”
Wagner finished second on the track, but after the race was issued a time penalty for driving standards equivalent to a pit lane drive-through. This dropped him to 12th in the results, while promoting Noaker to second and Annunziata to third.
It was the first podium of the season for Noaker. He has returned to MX-5 Cup competition after a two-year hiatus and admitted he struggled to come to grips with the new (to him) car earlier in the season.
“It feels great,” Noaker said of his podium “We’ve been struggling the first part of the year just trying to get our feet back into it. With the changes in the car the setup seems to be a good bit different from when we raced it last. We did some testing before this weekend here, found a lot of stuff and throughout the weekend we had pace the whole time, but qualifying didn’t quite work out for us for the first race. Half of the race today was under caution, but the shorter race, at the end, kind of makes it more exciting. I just want to thank Velocity Mazda, Slipstream Performance and Robert Noaker Racing and everyone there. Without them it wouldn’t be possible”
Annunziata earned his second podium in-a-row and took over the top spot in the Rookie of the Year standings.
Thomas finished fourth, followed by John Jodoin (No. 39 McCumbee McAleer Racing) who replicated his career-best finish of fifth from Friday’s race.
Hinchcliffe ultimately finished 10th after dropping to the back of the field.
“We had a much better start than yesterday and picked up a couple of spots,” Hinchcliffe said. “I just got a little bit of body work damage. We’re running sixth and I tried everything to shake it off, but unfortunately it didn’t come off on its own. So we had to come in under yellow and get it taken off. That dropped us back, but I think it still made for a fun race for me.
“It was such a fun weekend,” Hinchcliffe added. “I can’t thank Mazda and JTR enough for the opportunity to come do it. And hopefully they will call me back to do it again because it was as much fun as I’ve had in a race car in a very long time.”
Mazda MX-5 Cup teams will have some time off before Rounds Nine and 10 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, August 4 – 6. All MX-5 Cup races are available to re-watch on the IMSA YouTube channel.
Read the full article at MazdaMotorsports.com