This past weekend was a busy one with both of Mazda’s scholarship Shootouts, and I was lucky enough to be a judge again for both events.
The Mazda Road to 24 Shootout took place on Friday in the current spec Global MX-5 Cup cars. Four finalists were competing that day, and they had quite similar backgrounds that included extensive Spec Miata experience. In the end, Georgia Tech student Michael Carter from Savannah, Ga., won the $100,000 scholarship toward the 2019 Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup championship.
It will be exciting to see Michael compete next season as he has a very similar background to the previous scholarship winner, who wrapped up not only Rookie of the Year honors but also third place in the championship this past season.
The following two days was the Road to Indy Shootout. Twenty participants from all around the world competed for the $200,000 scholarship for the USF2000 championship. It was a very diverse group of drivers, ranging from go-kart national champions to Formula 1600 and other various open-wheel racers. Some of them hadn’t had much experience driving an H-pattern race car since most formula cars these days are paddle shift, including the USF2000 car. Adapting to the Formula Mazda platform was a real experience for them!
After a very exciting first day, it was apparent that it was going to be an extremely hard choice to narrow down the field. On day two, after the morning session, we made an elimination down to the top six.
From that point forward, the finalists ran a real qualifying session, which really turned the pressure up since this was the first time they knew they were competing for pure lap time. They also started a mock race in the order in which they qualified. The race result was not going to dictate the final winner, but it gave a true indication as to their overall performance under racing conditions.
After the race, the final decision by the judges was a difficult one. Not only did it include their on-track performance, but it also included their out-of-car personalities and capabilities. We had to make a really tough decision, narrowing it down to a few highlighted performances in the race.
Hunter McElrea from Gold Coast, Australia, won the scholarship. I know that everybody on Mazda’s behalf is really excited to see what Hunter can do next season as he’s already had some very successful tests with the USF2000 car. I’m wishing not only the winners but all participants the best of luck in the upcoming 2019 season! I can’t wait to see them on the grid and to see what the future holds for them!