Spec MX-5 Challenge Championship Races During #SCCARunoffs

A glimpse of the schedule for the 60th running of SCCA’s Runoffs®, happening Sept. 23-Oct. 1 at VIRginia International Raceway (VIR), confirms there will indeed be 24 races over three days to decide 2023 SCCA® National Champions in as many classes. But a closer look reveals two races for one group of competitors who won’t actually earn an SCCA title.

Drivers in this particular group, labelled “SMX” on the schedule, are actually part of the Spec MX-5 Challenge Series – which is conducting a separate, end-of-year championship during the Runoffs. And because this series is doing things a little differently at VIR, let’s take a look at how their competition shapes up.

Where drivers in SCCA National Championship classes will have three separate chances on track to post their best qualifying lap over three days, the Spec MX-5 Challenge field will have only one shot at qualifying, with that taking place on Thursday, Sept. 28, during Tire Rack Pole Day.

When it comes to racing, the 24 car classes eligible for SCCA National Championships will each have only one, winner-take-all contest over three Hagerty Race Days. The Spec MX-5 Challenge drivers, however, will have two separate races. One race takes place first thing Saturday morning, and the other Sunday late in the afternoon to close out the Runoffs. And for this series, the two races are being approached similar to that of a “playoff.”

A total of 15 race weekends, held at North America’s top-tier circuits, made up the 2023 Spec MX-5 Challenge season. There were two races each weekend, and points were awarded after each race. Winners earned 25 points, runners-up 21 points, third-place finishers received 18 points, and so on.

This is where things get tricky. Basically, the season point totals for each driver are now erased. Almost every competitor starts the championship run at VIR with a clean slate, except for those who were top 10 points earners for the year. Those drivers get the benefit of starting their championship weekend with a handful of points.

To make things even more exciting, points will be awarded after each of the two Spec MX-5 Challenge races during the Runoffs. The points system is the same as the regular season, except everything is doubled. Essentially, that means the Spec MX-5 Challenge season championship is up for grabs.

To help keep an eye on some top runners in the nearly 20-car field, below is a list of the 10 drivers coming into the championship with points, and their car numbers.

- Nathan Nicholson (No. 95): 10 points
- Westin Workman (No. 113): 9 points
- Nathan Saxon (No 16): 8 points
- Noah Harmon (No. 115): 7 points
- Alex Bertagnoli (No. 4): 6 points
- Will Robusto (No. 22): 5 points
- Cam Ebben (No. 55): 4 points
- Don Squirek (No. 75): 3 points
- Nico Bratz (No. 77): 2 points
- Chase Jones (No. 95): 1 point

Certainly, there’s bragging rights and street cred to be gained by drivers at this event. But that’s not all. Upwards of $85,000 in contingencies from Mazda are also on the line. The championship winner will receive a $30,000 scholarship towards future Mazda Motorsports grassroots racing efforts. The runner-up gets a $20,000 scholarship, and another $10,000 scholarship is earned by the third-place finisher. Nobody, however, walks away empty handed as Mazda paid $2,000 to each driver that participated in the championship.

Of course, drivers who perform well are also very likely to get an invite to the Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout taking place later this year. That scholarship program has acted as a springboard for many aspiring race car drivers, and winners get some very substantial fiscal support for the upcoming 2024 race season.

SMX: Onward and Upward

As announced last week, Spec MX-5 cars have been approved to compete as a class, designated SMX at all SCCA U.S. Majors Tour® and Hoosier Racing Tire SCCA Super Tour weekends starting in 2024. SMX will also have an official race at Road America in 2024 as a fully recognized National Championship Runoffs class.

Based on the 2006-’15 Mazda Miata MX-5 (NC) chassis, the SMX class in SCCA Road Racing competition is designed as an affordable, reliable, tech-able, and fun-to-drive option for SCCA racers. It offers new and existing Club members a class to race in that targets a cost-effective and level playing field.

SMX will be integrated into existing run groups like Spec Miata, Touring, or Super Touring® during Hoosier Super Tour and U.S. Majors Tour events, but will have its own race at the Runoffs.

“This is a big milestone for Mazda Motorsports’ grassroots racing program,” Mazda Motorsports Business Development Manager Josh Smith said. “Becoming an SCCA National Class opens up participation to more drivers at more tracks and it fills a gap between Spec Miata and MX-5 Cup. Spec Miata is hugely successful, but as parts are harder to come by for the NA and NB models, maintaining the cars will become more expensive. We want to ensure the future of Mazda’s popularity in grassroots racing and we’re backing it up with a seven-figure investment in SMX.”

If you want to check out Spec MX-5 Challenge cars in person at the Runoffs, you’ll find them paddocked together alongside the new, super-slick Mazda Motorsports Customer Experience Center perched at VIR’s skid pad. Even better, Mazda will be holding a confab at 10 a.m. local time on Friday, Sept. 29, for folks curious about SMX.

Follow SMX and All Runoffs Action

Currently underway at VIR is the first of three qualifying days, this one being Sunoco 260 Tuesday for the 2023 Runoffs. Racers have 20-minute sessions on track today, and the process begins again at 8 a.m. Eastern Time Wednesday and Thursday to sort out grid positions before Hagerty Race Days.

Those not on site at VIR can follow qualifying developments live – from afar – at the Runoffs Live Timing/Scoring webpage where you’ll find an audio-only qualifying broadcast, as well as current and archived Timing/Scoring data for all on-track sessions. That same audio broadcast will be heard around VIR on the public address system.

On Hagerty Race Days – which are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Sept. 29-Oct. 1 – a multi-camera video broadcast presented by Mazda will be delivered directly to smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, or desktops and laptops around the globe. Catch all the Runoffs racing action anywhere with internet access as it happens live. Access the real time feed at SCCA.com, or at the SCCA Inc. Facebook page and the SCCA Official YouTube channel.

A four-man team familiar to fans will again anchor the video broadcast, and split duties across Hagerty Race Days. Greg Creamer and John Fippin will share play-by-play responsibilities, and color commentary will be added by Larry “Lefty” MacLeod and Tom O’Gorman. Heyward Wagner will add insight from grid and pit lane, as well as capture the emotion from competitors immediately after races. For those attending the VIR Runoffs in person, audio from the broadcast will air live around the circuit via the public address system.

Qualifying results data, an event schedule, VIR Runoffs facility map and much more can be found at the VIR Runoffs Event webpage. And don’t forget that Brian Bielanski and Gregg Ginsberg will be joined in 2023 by driver Laurin Brallier for a return of the Runoffs “Inside the SCCA" video podcast presented by Goodyear. On Hagerty Race Days, the trio will get things cranking with a live “Breakfast at the Runoffs” video presentation starting around 7 a.m. Eastern Time before cars head on course. Their coverage then picks up again during daily lunch breaks with the “Halftime Show.” Those presentations will later be archived at The Racing Network YouTube page.

Photo: The Spec MX-5 Challenge Series, pictured here running at Portland International Raceway earlier this year during a Hoosier Racing Tire SCCA Super Tour weekend, is holding its championship at VIRginia International Raceway during the 2023 Runoffs.

Photo by Doug Berger