Rookie Robert Stout emerged from a hard-fought battle on the streets of Toronto to score his second Battery Tender Mazda Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires win of the season on Saturday. Patrick Gallagher led Round 8 from flag to flag on Sunday.
On Saturday, Stout, driving the No.28 Lucas Oil Racing TV/SC Fuels entry for McCumbee McAleer Racing, Stout finished ahead of his teammate and Global MX-5 championship leader Patrick Gallagher.
After missing the opening practice of the weekend following travel complications, Bryan Ortiz in the No.4 Copeland Motorsports MX-5 finished third after leading 19 of the first 20 laps of the race.
Matt Cresci just missed the podium in the No.51 Slipstream Performance MX-5. He finished fourth after being a part of the top-six train of cars that battled from start to finish. Defending Series Champion Nathanial Sparks finished fifth in the No.8 Sick Sideways Racing MX-5. Tom Martin III in the No.21 Winding Road Team TFB MX-5 earned his best finish of the season, crossing the line in sixth.
The race was the first of two for the MX-5 Cup field on the event weekend, which is being staged as part of the annual Verizon IndyCar Series visit to Toronto.
Ortiz was the early leader, making a pass on polesitter Gallagher in the No.29 McCumbee McAleer Racing MX-5 on the opening lap. His lead stood through two full-course caution periods and to the halfway point of the race. But his mirrors were full, and busy, thanks to a massive battle for podium positions behind him. Ortiz lost the lead briefly to Todd Lamb in the No.84 Atlanta Speedwerks MX-5, before facing off with Stout.
“It was a tough battle,” said Ortiz, who is among the strong field of rookie racers looking to take the $50,000 Mazda scholarship for the top rookie finisher. “I feel like I was a little faster than everybody, but I was by myself up front and they were able to work the draft and catch me on the straight. It was a bummer for sure (to finish third) knowing we had a car that was fast enough to fight for the win. We’ll learn from this one and try it again tomorrow.”
Stout had a tremendous opening lap that moved him from sixth to third, setting him up to fight for the lead. It wasn’t until the final 10 minutes that he made his move on Ortiz.
Fortunately for Stout, the third and final full-course caution of the 45-minute race came out just after the pass with less than 10 minutes on the clock. It was not enough time to restart the race.
“It was a pretty tough fight,” Stout said. “There’s some guys in there that do not want to give it up, especially at a race like this where we know a caution is such a high possibility. There’s no reason to be conservative to the end of the race. My goal was to get to the front as soon as I possibly could and then see what happened from there. It took a couple of aggressive moves, but we were able to pull it off.”
Stout was followed across the line by teammate Gallagher, who was never able to regain the top spot after starting from pole, but did set the fastest lap of the race, at 1:25.2699.
The continued podium streak, and the fastest lap of the race, was a testament to the team effort that went into the result. Gallagher had posted the fastest lap in qualifying on Friday, only to be taken out by a crash late in the session. The No.29 Modspace/Howard Concrete MX-5 was heavily damaged, but the team had the Mazda MX-5 Cup machine ready to go for the race start.
“The car wasn’t great in the beginning,” Gallagher admitted. “We set it up for the long run, but the race was the exact opposite of practice—there were three yellows. Thank you to the team for an awesome job to turn the car around. I had a blast out there and congratulations to Robert (Stout).”
A late race restart would have given him a shot at the win, but Gallagher was relieved to not have a one-lap dash for the finish after the final yellow.
“We’d like to go green and get a race win, but at the end of the day, we’re here to win the championship,” said Gallagher, who is targeting the $200,000 Mazda Road to 24 scholarship that the title will earn. [Nathanial] Sparks (P2 in the championship standings) was behind us, the point gap grows, we had a car with all four corners on it, so I was okay with it [ending under yellow].”
In addition to winning his second race of the year, Stout captured the Battery Tender Hard Charger Award for picking up five positions during the 45-minute race.
“We had some work to do after qualifying yesterday,” Stout said. “We weren’t too satisfied with sixth. We got the car a little more freed up and it was able to rotate a bit more to get the power down early for these long straightaways.”
The final full-course caution came out for Lamb, who was a part of the top-six train and officially led one lap of the race. The train of podium pursuers got derailed as Lamb moved to avoid a slower car in turns six and seven, sending him into the path of Sparks as the two made contact. Lamb found himself in a slippery path of oil-dry as his car spun into the wall and ended his race.
On Sunday Patrick Gallagher led Round 8 from flag to flag on Sunday. He was chased to the finish line by Matt Cresci who finished second, followed by Nathanial Sparks. Gallagher has scored five wins from the first eight races and maintains his lead for the championship and the $200,000 Mazda Road to 24 Scholarship.
Starting from pole position Gallagher led all 26 laps of the race. After finishing second in Saturday’s race, the current MX-5 Cup points leader said he learned an important lesson about street racing.
“I’ve been to a couple of street circuits before,” Gallagher said. “I think I had a little advantage knowing what to expect from yellows and how the race was going to go. But yesterday, I learned to get to the front, so if the yellow comes out you still get the win. I just tried to stay out front the whole day.”
Gallagher’s early competition was second-place starter Bryan Ortiz, but a mechanical issue dropped him down the order in the second half of the race. Ortiz would eventually finish 11th.
Cresci was then glued to Gallagher’s bumper, but was unable to find a way to the lead before the finish. This was Cresci’s best finish of the season and tightened up the battle for the $50,000 Rookie of the Year award.
“We ended up breaking away as two cars,” Gallagher explained. “He kept me honest. He was up on the pedal in the brake zones and a couple times I saw smoke coming off his wheels. I was hoping I could get through this and keep him behind me. I was a little better than him in certain parts of the track and I just tried to make the most of that and hold him off to the finish.”
In his attempt to take the lead from Gallagher, Cresci set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap, a 1:24.709-seconds lap of the bumpy street circuit.
“I had a lot of understeer in qualifying on scuffed tires, so we went back to stickers and raised the rear a turn to see if it would work and it was on rails,” Cresci said. “I had nothing on the straightaway for Patrick (Gallagher). Regardless, that was probably one of the most fun and intense races I’ve ever had. You can probably see it on my face! It was an awesome race and I look forward to more running at the front!”
Starting fifth, Sparks found himself in an intense battle for the final podium spot with a pack of five Global MX-5 Cup cars. At the front of the pack was Luke Oxner in the No. 77 White Racing M-5 and in the final laps of the race, Sparks was trying everything he could to get around him. His persistence paid off and he crossed the finish line in third.
“I was pushing like crazy,” Sparks said. “At a street circuit like this, you’ve got to push, push, push and hope you don’t make a mistake. Passing is extremely difficult and the track surface changes through the passing zones. It’s another variable you have to take into consideration when passing. I fell back and worked my way back up. I got a few nicks and dings in my car, but I’m excited to finish the weekend getting a podium for my team Sick Sideways and my car is in good shape.”
Max Faulkner in the No. 82 McCumbee McAleer Racing MX-5 and Oxner were also in the hunt for the final podium spot throughout the second half of the race and eventually finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Tom Martin III had another strong race.
Just behind him in seventh was Nick Evancich who took home the Battery Tender Hard Charger Award for picking up eight positions during the race.
“I just tried to weather the storm because it can be mayhem at the start, especially with the walls right there,” said Evancich. “Then I was able to team up with Zach Lee, my Sick Sidways teammate and we were able to work together and pick off a lot of spots. It feels good for me to get this result for the guys on the team and to pay back their effort with this award!”
Yesterday’s race winner, Robert Stout was involved in an incident at the start and made a trip to pit lane for repairs, only to be hit with a drive-through penalty for violating the pit lane speed limit. He finished 12th.
The next round of the Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires will take place at Watkins Glen International, in upstate New York, Sept. 1 – 3.
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