Mazda MX-5 Cup designs NASCAR crossover, interest
After training for his Rolex 24 debut at Daytona, Chase Elliott decided to linger at the Action Express timing booth to watch the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Cup season opener.
NASCAR’s four-time most popular driver was not disappointed with the action.
Drafting in tight packs on the shores of Daytona International Speedway while hitting fenders on the track’s indoor road course, the race produced a thrilling finish with the top four separated by less than 0.2 seconds at the checkered flag.
“It was one of the best races I’ve ever watched, just like a fan sitting there,” Elliott said with a broad smile while recalling the MX-5 Cup event last weekend (two days before his victory at the Nashville Superspeedway). “I thought that was really cool. And those guys put on a great show, but I think that track really suited the way those cars were kind of set up and they could get going, they were going pretty slowly where they really roughed out on the straights. And then they looked really fun to drive through the road course section. And there was this really cool balance. I thought it was really fun.
Elliott has become a casual fan, watching the occasional MX-5 Cup races and highlights – and he plans to watch in person this weekend at Road America when the sports car series races twice as Complementary event to the Xfinity and Cup Series (while also The first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races in Canada).
Elliott became one of many NASCAR connections to the Mazda MX-5 Cup. Due to being sanctioned since last year by IMSA (which is owned by NASCAR), there are already natural examples of convergence, but Road America’s entry list has several other ties. MX-5 Cup rookie Connor Zilisch (who qualified first Friday) is run by Kevin Harvick Inc., and series title contender Chris Nunes hails from the same Southern California area as seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
But it was the memorable run that bonded even stronger. MX-5 Cup races have become a fixture for NASCAR Executive Vice President Mike Helton when he attends IMSA race weekends.
“It was fun to have the MX-5 Cup property and put it in front of our audience and the people of NASCAR,” IMSA president John Doonan told NBC Sports. “Mike really loves coming to IMSA races to watch the MX-5 Cup. Anyone who’s a fan of racing, whether it’s short track stock car racing or road racing, wants to see a good And there’s no doubt that the MX-5 Cup puts on a great show whenever it’s there.
Parker Kligerman will get first-hand experience with a Saturday and Sunday doubleheader (both races air at 10 a.m. ET on IMSA.com/tvlive), making his MX-5 Cup debut in the No. 75 Thunder Bunny Racing.
Kligerman, who races part-time in NASCAR while also working as an NBC Sports pit reporter, caught the attention of MX-5 Cup officials when he tweeted that the series consistently delivers outstanding racing. The post sparked conversations about possibly entering him in an MX-5 Cup race.
In his MX-5 Cup practice debut on Friday, Kligerman set the ninth fastest lap.
“They looked at the schedule this year, and Road America being the first companion race with NASCAR, they said it would be fun if someone from NASCAR came to race,” Kligerman told NBC Sports. “And they asked me if I was interested, and it was ‘100 percent.’
“It’s a cool thing. I’ve always wanted to experience that, and I got to race a spec Miata at Lime Rock (the Connecticut track Kligerman co-owns) last year and had a blast, and that’s the highest level of that, basically. So I was like, ‘Sign me up!’ I’m excited because I think this looks like one of the most fun and pure races. You grow up thinking as a kid, this is what running will be like all the time. Car packs, using aerodynamics, slingshot passes and that sort of thing. It doesn’t quite work that way when you get to the top, but it looks like it would.
Kligerman, who discussed Mazda’s racing history during his “In The Wall” video series this week, thinks the quality of racing can be attributed to the MX-5’s production-based formula. Cup, which shares some traits with NASCAR’s new Next Gen Cup car.
As a former Mazda executive, Doonan helped build the series over 15 years ago. The MX-5 Cup transitioned to its current model in 2015. The cars are built at Mazda’s main plant in Hiroshima, Japan, and shipped to Florida, where they are converted into race cars by Son Performance in Daytona Beach. .
Over 250 motorsport-specific parts are added to the production car, along with a full roll cage and sealed engines, transmissions, shock absorbers and ECUs.
“In many ways, the philosophy of the MX-5 Cup car aligns exactly with what the Next Gen car is,” Doonan said. “This cost-effective platform that sets standards for any team size. There’s a one-car team that’s won the championship twice. That’s the philosophy of MX-5 .
“It’s no secret that the races are among the best in the world. The fence ends. The racing craft he teaches. And it is also very profitable for competitors. The car is all about setup and driving skill.
Doonan hopes a “One NASCAR” philosophy may help foster more crossovers with the MX-5 Cup in the future. Although manufacturer loyalty to Chevy, Ford and Toyota may limit options for stars such as Elliott, some other NASCAR veterans have expressed interest in competing in the series.
“The more NASCAR-owned properties that can work together, the better,” Doonan said. “And given the opportunities with a few more road courses on the (Cup) schedule, that opens up opportunities to bring a different look and ownership to the NASCAR audience. And the MX-5 public and the IMSA public as a whole have a different perspective on NASCAR these days with the new car and more on-road courses. You see a lot of parallels.
First two hours in the car and I still have a lot to learn, but I definitely felt confident at the end of the day
These things are so much fun 👏 pic.twitter.com/TUQ3BvutwB
— Parker Kligerman (@pkligerman) June 30, 2022
Kligerman, who is trying to drive the MX-5 Cup car between his NASCAR job on NBC this weekend, said some drivers told him they were jealous of his moonlighting this weekend.
“Hopefully I’m representing NASCAR well,” said Kligerman, a two-time Truck Series winner. “I hope Chase and everyone else are proud of me. I jump into the depths with very little practice, but I go with an open mind knowing I might suck. I hope to be respectful and improving throughout the weekend.
“I could definitely see more NASCAR guys racing (MX-5 Cup) as long as they can get their manufacturer’s approval to do so. We are all runners. One can enjoy beautiful races. And when you see something that looks like it’s just fun, it’s really appealing. I can imagine a lot of guys want to do it.