The Petit Lemans Road Atlanta always has a very special atmosphere that no other event possesses. The fans are something special and perhaps knowing that the racing season is almost over, they all make an effort to savor and celebrate every moment. Race team personnel know that soon they will finally get a chance to relax without pressure for a few weeks, new champion drivers are crowned and, for the ones who didn’t have a great season, they can positively look at the new upcoming year with high hopes and optimism. In short, this event is always special and we, as a team, feel privileged to have been a part of it. A special thank you, before we offer a short race weekend summary, has to go to Ben Keating and Tyler Gonzalez for driving with our team. The professionalism they displayed from the very first moment they arrived, how they conducted themselves throughout the weekend, interacted with the team and each other was just something special to witness and be a part of. Thank you Alberto Gonzalez for being so helpful and genuinely one of the nicest guys we have worked with, thank you Mickey Carter for coming to see us off for race 2 on Friday (Mickey it’s always a confidence inspiring and encouraging presence), thank you to Flis Performance and especially Andreas and Ashli that didn’t leave the track before ensuring that we had everything to repair the damages on the # 19, thank you to Spark Performance and MMR for lending a hand (and equipment)….long night but we couldn’t have done it without you, thank you to all the staff at Andersen Promotion and IMSA, thank you to Hixon and JTR for bringing us food when we didn’t have time ….what a paddock!!! Last but not least thank you Mazda Motorsports for putting on such a great series and Gary from BF Goodrich, what a fantastic guy.
Practice 1 at Road Atlanta started off our on-track activities with Ben Keating and Tyler Gonzalez. Tyler finished Practice 1 in 6th on used tires. Ben unfortunately had a camber setting come loose, which made the car undrivable, forcing him to end the session early with very little running.
Practice 2 at Road Atlanta was a wet session. Ben was excited to get back out on track in the # 19, but unfortunately we soon discovered additional technical problems. It was extremely frustrating and disappointing for the team as well as Ben who missed out on running in the second practice session. Luckly not all was lost and Tyler in contrast had a great Practice 2 setting a 1:44.887 which was good enough to put the #35 in second.
Qualifying was dry with both Tyler and Ben being able to run with no issues, finally. Tyler found himself in a great drafting group with both Aaron Jeansonne and Jared Thomas as drafting buddies. Tyler could have gotten a faster lap but unfortunately due to red flags he wasn’t able to finish it, however he did set a 1:37.016 which was good enough for a 4th place start for Race 1. Ben’s qualifying was severely affected by the total lack of practice and the timing of the red flags which prevented him from posting a much faster lap. So P4 and P17 with no practice and a truncated qualifying session, was all that was on offer.
Race 1 was an exciting opportunity for Tyler starting at the sharp end of the field and for Ben to finally get enough practice laps to allow him to finally race in race 2. Starting in 4th Tyler drove a sensible race in the leading pack from the start. Unfortunately a few laps into the race, Ben had a small contact and hit the wall in turn 5 forcing him to come into the pits to change a tire and make quick repairs to the car right rear quarter, losing a few laps. After Ben exited the pits, the lead group was quickly upon him and, not wanting to be in the way of the championship battle, he let them by eventually finishing the race 4 laps down. Tyler was battling at the front the whole time and displaying his and the car’s capabilities. On the last lap on the run down to turn 10 Tyler made his move, passing most of the cars, and going into the lead into turn 10A and 10B, defended the inside line in 11 holding 2 cars at bay but got passed on the outside by Connor Zilisch who had the momentum….Mazda, in your next redesign could you please make the car just a little wider, sorry Tyler. Anyway, good race Connor and, finishing 2nd, Tyler and the team were very happy to come away with a podium finish at Road Atlanta for Race 1. As for Ben, not the result he or the team were hoping for but at least we were treating race 1 as practice 1.
Race 2 would mark the end of the 2023 Mazda MX-5 Cup championship. With Tyler and Ben starting in 10th and 23rd respectively, we were in for a thrilling race to cap off the season. Tyler spent the first few laps getting to the front pack, while Ben had to avoid a chaotic start to the 2nd lap where there was an incident on the start-finish straight with several cars tangled up into it. Ben had to use some of his masterful racing skills to make it out in one piece unscathed. To be honest, from the outside it just looked like we were going to have another $ 50,000 accident and, after reviewing the footage from inside the car, let me just say that it was a lot worse. Thank you for bringing it home in 1 piece Ben, that showed all of your experience and skills. As the race went on Tyler found himself in a full-on melee at the front fighting every lap for position. Tyler was leading in the last few laps, however unfortunately on the 3rd lap from the end Tyler was hit from behind forcing him to lose control and hit another car, this did prompt a beautiful moment of car control from Tyler, keeping the #35 on the track. Tyler thank you for saving the car, that also looked a very expensive moment that just didn’t happen….Alberto, thank you for giving him such quick hands and impeccable judgment. Chasing back the lead pack in 4th position, Tyler went for one last “true racer’s move” that in my personal book was the move of the race. One last attempt to secure P3 which resulted in a trip in the kitty litter, a little grass mowing (Michelin raceway, who do we send the invoice to for lawn services?) and finally rejoining the track to finish P5 on the road. It’s the last lap of a motor race, you have to go for it and show you are hungry, go Tyler, hats off to you, that was a great move that almost came off. Tyler’s P5 was later converted to P4 by race direction. What a race and Tyler even got the track record at Road Atlanta for MX-5 Cup with a 1:36.571! We are looking forward to racing with both of you soon and Ben, I am sorry the weekend just didn’t go our way but it was good to congratulate you on your LMP2 title at the end of the Petit Lemans race.
….Conclusion….So this wraps up the racing season for us. We wouldn’t have gotten our start without Mickey and Michael Carter selling us their car and setting us on a path for success, Clayton and Gina Ketcher for believing in us and giving us our start in MX5 Cup, Alex Hann for his beautiful Watkins Glen pictures, Vic Gibson for helping us with the Car repairs along with Scott Kaluza and Jonathan Applegate from Mazda Motorsport, Mickey Carter yet again, Michael Carter for coming back to drive with us at VIR, Ben Keating for being so gracious to accept our invitation to race with us, Tyler Gonzalez for accepting our invitation to race for us at Road Atlanta. To all the drivers, we really enjoyed working with each and every one of you and we would work with you again in a second.
Finally, another last but least, a very special thank you to Cory Bradburn, Logan White, Max White, Niki Saito, Arik Saito for being as crazy as I am and believing that we could go out there and compete at the sharp end. John Mouvery, Butch Williams, Mitch Wright, Mert Aksahin and Lee Branchizio thank you for helping us along the way, we appreciate you more than you know. Everyone’s contribution was vitally important and incredibly appreciated. We learned a lot this year, there’s a ton of work that needs to be done to prepare for next season and the countdown has already started. I am excited to go to Daytona with this team, so let’s go do it and have fun while doing it.