Make a Choice (or Not), No Surrender Necessary and Give Him a Hand: Super Tour Sunday at NOLA

The sun came out in the bayou, and eight group races came and went to wrap the Hoosier Racing Tire SCCA Super Tour at NOLA Motorsports Park on Sunday. Throughout the day on Sunday, we called the debate between Spec Miata and Spec MX-5 a draw, refused to wave a white flag to surrender (but did use to signal emergency vehicles on course), and used all of the hand signals to go racing.

Spec Miata or Spec MX-5? Yes!

Yes, the Mazda roadster platform has a reputation as the easy button for creating race classes. When Spec MX-5 was announced as a Runoffs class for 2024, it stirred up some “feelings” across the road racing landscape. The numbers don’t lie, and there’s plenty of room for both generations of Spec Miata and Spec MX-5. In fact, with 38 cars in Spec Miata and 25 in Spec MX-5, the run groups have been separated for races.

W/hat about on the track? Obviously Spec Miata has a reputation of wheel-to-wheel, on the limit excitement. Can Spec MX-5 measure up? One driver with experience in both knows they can.

Michael Borden, who won the Runoffs in an NC-generation Miata (albeit in Touring 4 trim), has experience in both and knows the program inside and out. He’s seen the plusses and minuses, and enjoys both – but has made a home in Spec MX-5.

“The rule set isn’t too far off from both classes, in the parts you can change,” Borden said. “They both have the Penske shocks. The biggest difference is the tires, and instead of the Hoosier (in Spec Miata), the Spec MX-5 has the Toyo.”

And, of course, the base chassis comes with some differences – namely the motor.

“Instead of 125 horsepower in Spec Miata, the Spec MX-5 is in the 170 range,” he said. “They corner almost identical, you’re faster down the straights in the Spec MX-5 and they brake a little better. So your marks on track are pretty much the same, just with slightly faster lap times. Not only is it quicker down the straights, but you can use that horsepower in the corner to help you rotate if you need to make adjustments.”

Ultimately, the difference is in the chassis, and what fits a particular driving style.

“The Spec Miatas tend to understeer, and you can set the Spec MX-5s up to really oversteer quite a bit more, which is what I prefer,” Borden said, while acknowledging your mileage may vary.

At the end of the day, the Spec MX-5 promising just as great racing as Spec Miata. And both are poised to be around for years to come. At early glance, the Spec MX-5 seems to have brought out an entirely new group of racers to SCCA, which is a great thing for everyone. And we predict we’ll see continued cross over and strength in numbers as both display the versatility of Mazda’s platform.

Waving The White Flag (and yellow, and green, and…)

If finding new Flagging and Communications workers is difficult, nobody told that to Lee Tilton.

The Houston Region member is actually local to the New Orleans area, and worked with NOLA Motorsports Park this winter to host a mandatory F & C Training session for track workers.

Tilton utilized the SCCA Flagging and Communications manual and Regional training opportunities that had been gathered over the years for those classes. His underlying goal was to extoll the benefits of being a certified and licensed SCCA corner marshal in addition to the “day job” at the track.

And it worked. Tilton had 23 attendees at his training session, with approximately a third of them as new marshals. Multiple workers signed up for SCCA memberships and completed the online licensing course to participate further.

In addition, as the local member heading into the Hoosier Super Tour hosted by a conglomerate of Texas-based Regions, he took on a lot of the local and recruiting duties to fill out this weekend’s field so the cars could get on track.

Tilton’s efforts were noticed. He was awarded the 2023 Houston Region Worker of the Year on Friday night and had his name engraved on the Region’s large trophy.

Hand Signals

Racing is the ultimate experience, combining physical and mental exercises to do it well. That’s true even with some modifications.

Tim Ripley has always had the proverbial “speed bug,” but had some of that taken from him following a motorcycle accident and spinal cord injury that cost him the use of his legs. A chance encounter and internet search that sent him to Hands On Driving Academy and its hand controlled Honda Fit at MSR Houston brought that back.

“I called James and said ‘hey, can I come out and do your comp school in November?’” Ripley said. “Then I was like, what’s next?”

What was next was a Regional race in Texas for the New Jersey resident, and now into the fire at the Hoosier Super Tour. The car, which began as a Honda Fit Sport with an automatic transmission, allows the right paddle shift to still control upshifts. A clicker on the modified handle, controlled in the left hand, provides down shifts. Pulling that lever down is the accelerator, pushing it in hits the brakes.

“I did a clinic in 2007 and got into a TAG kart with hand controls that CRG had developed with Alex Zanardi,” Ripley recalled. “I remember thinking I hadn’t accelerated like that in 20 years.”

Karting isn’t easy on the ribs, though, so Ripley moved back to doing track days in his street cars. But the opportunity to get into the race car was one he couldn’t pass up.

“I’ve been doing a fair amount of driving, but this is another level,” Ripley said. “I would love to have a car that I could figure out how to shift a manual gear box. This is a ton of fun, but with the automatic, I don’ t know if anybody could make it competitive and I sure can’t.”

For now, the solution is the rental program from Hands on Driving. While there may be bigger plans coming up, it’s a great adventure as it is.

“The guys at Hands On Driving Academy have been great at helping me get the car set up and customizing it a little bit for me,” Ripley said. “I keep telling them, if you keep treating me like this, I’m going to keep coming back!”

Sunday Victors

On track saw 25 winners during Sunday’s 18-lap (or 35 minutes, whichever came first) races from NOLA Motorsports Park. Those provisional winners, with class: name, car make are listed below. An (*) denotes a weekend sweep of the doubleheader.

*American Sedan: Brian Himes, Ford Mustang
*B-Spec: Conner Kelleher, Mini Cooper
*E Production: Riley Salyer, BMW Z3
*F Production: Cliff Ira, Honda Civic Del Sol
*H Production: James Rogerson, Honda Civic
Formula Atlantic: Paul Ravaris, Elan Pro Formula Mazda
*Formula Continental: Bill Johnson, Van Diemen RF01-2
Formula Enterprises 2: Franklin Futrelle, Formula Enterprises/Mazda
*Formula F: Cooper Shipman, Piper DB7/Honda
*Formula Vee: Andrew Whitston, Protoform P2/Volkswagen
*Formula X: Broch Evans, Star Formula Mazda
*GT-1: Michael McAleenan, Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo
*GT-2: Barry Boes, Ford Mustang
*GT-3: Bill McGavic, Mazda RX-7
*GT-X: Jem Hepworth, McLaren 570s GT4
*Prototype 2: Jack Donnellan, Carbir SR P2
Spec Miata: Logan Stretch, Mazda Miata
Spec MX-5: Ethan Jacobs, Mazda MX-5
Spec Racer Ford Gen 3: Liam Snyder, Spec Racer Ford
*Super Touring Lite: Danny Steyn, Mazda MX-5
*Super Touring Under: David Fiorelli, Ford Mustang
Touring 1: Garry Crook, Chevrolet Corvette
Touring 2: Denny Stripling, BMW M2
Touring 3: Gamaliel Aguilar-Gamez, Nissan 370Z
Touring 4: Marc Cefalo, Mazda MX-5