St. Petersburg Could Set the Tone for 2023 Mazda MX-5 Cup Season
 February 27, 2023| 
  • Team News
23-MX5-STP-Preview

February 27, 2023 - After opening the 2023 season on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway, the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires heads to the tight and treacherous streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, for Rounds Three and Four this weekend.

 

This is the fourth-consecutive year the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has appeared on the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup schedule, and the temporary street course has become a favorite for many drivers in the series. The 1.8-mile circuit may be surrounded by concrete walls, but MX-5 Cup drivers have shown time and again that it doesn’t hinder the close, door-to-door racing the series is known for.

 

With the concrete-lined circuit raising the stakes for any errors, that intensity will only be increased by the schedule, as both races will take place on Saturday.  Having both races on the same day this year could make drivers slightly more cautious in Race One, but with Mazda paying out prize money each race and $6,000 on the line for a race win, don’t count on it!

 

Selin Rollan (No. 87 Hixon Motor Sports) has more wins at St. Petersburg than any other driver in the field and it could be because he knows every inch of the Albert Whitted Airport runways. A native of the Orlando area, Rollan is a flight instructor working toward his commercial pilot’s license and flies in regularly.

 

“It’s a smaller airport, so it’s only prop planes and no jets,” Rollan said. “It’s on the water and there’s a nice restaurant in the airport terminal that has a balcony to watch the landing and departing planes. Just the fact that we race there once a year makes it a special place for me!”

 

Rollan is crossing his fingers that St. Pete continues to deliver wins, because he has not stood on the top step of the MX-5 Cup podium since last year’s Round Four race there.

 

Defending series champion Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering) took a dominating win in Round Three at St. Pete last year, which was potentially a sign of things to come for his championship season. Thomas knows that strong results at Daytona and St. Pete are the springboard to a successful season.

 

“The guys that are experienced at St. Pete always have the upper hand,” Thomas said. “If you can get through Daytona with a good result and show up to St. Pete with a lot of experience, it’s a good start to the season.”

 

The point leader coming into St. Petersburg, Tyler Gonzalez (No. 51 Copeland Motorsports), has a strained relationship with the street circuit. Last year he showed that he had enough speed to win but was held back by mechanical issues.

 

“We had some pretty terrible luck last year,” Gonzalez said. “Race One, we had an axle snap while I was just cruising about halfway through the race in 2nd. In Race Two, I had a decent lead with only a couple laps to go and the brakes overheated at the end of the back straight and I had to take the exit route and lost about 20 positions. That being said, Copeland Motorsports gave me an amazing car last year. I love the track, and it fits my driving style. I know we’ll have the pace, and leading the championship, we’re looking to keep the car out of the walls and hopefully extend our point lead.”

 

The 2023 MX-5 Cup rookie class struggled slightly at Daytona. Brazilian Bruno Smielevski (No. 85 Hixon Motor Sports) earned the highest finish: sixth in Race One. The newest Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout Scholarship winner, Nate Cicero (No. 83 McCumbee McAleer Racing), was able to cross the line eighth in Race Two. But it was Thomas Annunziata (No. 10 Hixon Motor Sports), whose Daytona finishes combined to place him highest in the Rookie of the Year points.

 

Race One from St. Petersburg goes green at 7:55am ET, Saturday, March 4. Later the same day, Race Two is slated for 4:45pm ET. Both MX-5 Cup races at St. Pete will be streamed live on RACER.com and IMSA.com/tvlive.

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