During the past several days, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the MRT24 (Mazda Road to the 24) Shootout, which consisted of eight finalists who drove the 2016 Mazda Global MX-5 Cup car at Carolina Motorsports Park. Not only were these drivers lucky enough to be chosen as finalists, but they were also lucky enough to be among the first to drive the new MX-5 in its official race trim!
Sunday afternoon consisted of interviews for all eight finalists. They had to present a business plan for creating value to Mazda Motorsports and all of its partners, such as BF Goodrich Tires and Battery Tender. The finalists also interviewed with the driving judges: Andrew Carbonell, Charles Espenlaub and myself. We discussed their knowledge of data acquisition, in-car video analysis and general car setup dynamics.
This was a really great experience because it allowed all of the judges to meet the finalists and really understand their backgrounds and get some insight into their personalities. These interviews and presentations were critical in the decision-making process because it’s not just about the on-track performance, but a driver’s total package in their ability to represent partners and brands for the other 340 days they aren’t racing! The winner of the Shootout has to be someone who is well rounded in all aspects of being a race car driver.
Monday brought persistent rain with cold temperatures: very uncharacteristic for the fall in the Southeast. All of the drivers got to experience BF Goodrich’s new rain tire, which surprisingly had so much grip that lap times in the rain were only several seconds slower than the dry time. All of the competitors were raving about the performance of both the tire and the new MX-5 platform.
Throughout the day, competitors got several on-track sessions in which Andrew and I did data review with each individual to help them asses their performance and to give them feedback to help them continue improving.
It was a lot of fun to review so many different drivers’ data. Andrew and I each worked with all eight drivers, and we really got to see the differences between them since they were all driving the same spec car.
All seven judges got together to determine who the two finalists would be, and those two continued on to the next day. The two finalists were announced at dinner that night: Glenn McGee, who has an i-Racing simulation background, and Mark Drennan, who is an SCCA Runoffs champion and NASA Spec Miata champion. Not only were both drivers’ on-track performances impressive, but their off-track preparedness and professional presentation were apparent.
The sun came out for the final day, although it was still damp in the morning. Mark and Glenn got to really experience every possible condition at CMP – from the rain to the damp to completely dry!
The competition was incredibly close and kept everybody on the edge of their seats. It will be a tough decision about who will become the MRT24 Shootout winner and take the $100,000 scholarship prize. The winner will be decided at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday. The judges really have their work cut out for them!