Selin Rollan started the Spec Miata race from second at the NASA Eastern States Championships at Sebring International Raceway, and with a push from behind from Michael Ross, he led every lap. Unfortunately for Rollan, that lead evaporated in the last turn on the last lap as Ross drafted off a lapped car and got around Rollan for the win. Rollan said it was the third time he’d lost a Championship on the last lap.

2017 Mazda Road to 24 Shootout winner Selin Rollan led every lap of the Eastern States Championships, but ultimately finished second. He was selected for the Shootout as an at-large candidate. This is the second consecutive year an at-large candidate has won the Shootout.

“I got side by side with him, but he got the run and then got the win by a fender, so it was definitely exciting, but a little tough to take that after leading every lap,” Rollan said. “But it was still a good result and it capped off a good year of racing.”

Normally, it takes a championship in a Mazda or Mazda-powered vehicle to score and invitation to the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout, but in Rollan’s case, it was his consistency throughout the course of the 45-minute race that netted Rollan an invitation to the Shootout as a rare at-large candidate.

There were 19 semifinalists eligible for the $100,000 scholarship in the 2017 Mazda Road to 24 Shootout, now in its 12th year. The Shootout draws from programs as varied as NASA’s Championships and its Teen Mazda Challenge program, and other amateur racing and autocross, to virtual series such as iRacing.

Of course, becoming eligible for the Shootout presents another hurdle. Once the semifinalists are announced, each of them must submit a video and a business plan for their first season and beyond in the Global MX-5 Cup presented by Battery Tender.

“The criteria for the Shootout has been created to identify the aspiring professional racer who has the most complete set of skills required to succeed in motorsport,” said David Cook, business development manager for Mazda Motorsports. “These skills include speed, consistency, race craft, technical understanding, and off-track business and PR skills. History has shown that a driver will be limited in success if he or she is lacking in multiple areas.”

Rollan made his video and presented his business plan, which was unique among all the other competitors. You see, Rollan works at Classic Mazda in Orlando, Fla. His day job is selling Mazdas, and so he made that the center piece of his business plan.

“I have an interesting connection with Mazda in the retail world and the racing world. So, I know the brand, and I was hoping that would get me noticed,” Rollan said. “I had a little bit of leverage with the Mazda dealer (I work for), so I created an MRT24 pricing. If people come to me from my racing, they’ll get a little bit off our best price.”

Working with the general manager of his store, Rollan put together the pricing plan, knowing that the racetrack is a great place to pull in potential Mazda customers, especially given that two of the biggest sports car races in the United States happen within an hour or two of the dealership where he works.

Each driver had three sessions in two MX-5 Cup cars, using one set of tires that followed them from car to car.

“My general manager and my sales manager are very involved with the Mazda community and motorsports,” said Rollan, 23. “For example, every time a Mazda team comes to Daytona or Sebring for their testing, we provide them with cars to drive around. It’s kind of cool. Everyone knows my general manager. Everyone is very excited for this whole plan to come into place.”

Selin Rollan (right) and Danny Steyn talk after a qualifying race at the NASA Eastern States Championships at Sebring International Raceway, where Rollan finished second.

The video presentation and the plan got him invited to the Shootout as a finalist. The names of his competition should be familiar to most people reading this: Tyler Kicera, Preston Pardus and John Allen, who was the iRacing champion.

Six of the last eight Shootout winners have come from NASA, and that includes Rollan, who won the NASA Florida regional championship in 2010. Like so many other racers, Rollan got his start in karts when he was 11 years old. Because of his size, Rollan was racing against 15-year-olds when he was 14 (Rollan is now 6-feet, 2-inches tall). When he turned 15, he began autocrossing with his father in a Corvette. Autocross turned to track days in a Miata, which turned to racing in Spec Miata. While he was racing and winning, Rollan also was studying sociology at the University of Central Florida. He graduated last year.

At the Shootout, the four drivers had two identical cars. Each driver had his own set of tires. Since Rollan was the heaviest of all drivers, ballast was added to the cars when the others were driving. The four drivers had three 12-minute sessions on track, alternating between cars. Four judges monitored the drivers from positions around the track. Mazda drivers Andrew Carbonnell, Tom Long, Jonathan Bomarito kept watch, as did Scott Goodyear, a former IndyCar driver who now covers the sport as a television announcer.

Selin Rollan led every lap of the NASA Championships race at Sebring International Raceway, but Michael Ross made a pass exiting Turn 17 on the last lap to take the win.

After each session, the drivers would come in, get feedback and head out in the other cars. Judges watched for improvement as a result of that feedback. Two drivers were eliminated, leaving Rollan and Kicera to face off for the big prize. The final session put both drivers on different halves of the track at the same time. When that session was over, the judges announced that Rollan was the winner.

“It was a very, very exciting moment in my life,” Rollan said. “I couldn’t believe it. It was exciting. I knew I had a really good session. I knew from looking at my times on the data system I was very consistent, but you never know what the other driver is doing.”

Needless to say, the judges were impressed with Rollan. Tom Long said the biggest thing they saw was a quick average pace.

“His outright pace was strong every session,” Long said. “Another factor is a kind of consistency of the average lap time relative to the fast lap and kind of seeing adjustments and learning throughout the session – trying to make a change to something, then trying something else and actually progressing as the run goes on. It’s not just increasing speed, but physically trying different things, whether it be brake points or gear changes or lines.”

Rollan plans to focus entirely on MX-5 Cup in 2018. If you’re looking for a good car, his Spec Miata is up for sale on RacingJunk.com. He is having a new car built at Long Road Racing, but plans to run with an existing team, which will be announced at a later date. For 2018, Rollan said he would like to get the rookie of the year award, which would help pave the way for the 2019 season, when he would set his sights on the Global MX-5 Cup Championship and beyond.

“If I’m shooting far, I’d like to get that championship this year, but you never know. This is totally new for me. I don’t know how these guys race,” Rollan said. “I’ve watched videos, for sure, but I’ve been comfortable with a lot of people I’ve run with for the last eight years. Now this is a whole new group, so we’ll see. Plus, it’s a whole new car, with power steering and ABS, something that is not in a Spec Miata. It’s different, but I’d like to win rookie of the year or the big championship this year, and then after I do win the championship, move on.”

Rollan knows what he needs to do. He’ll be looking to keep the racing clean, finish every race and try to get as many wins and podiums as possible. He is brushing up on all the tracks MX-5 Cup will visit in 2018 because he’s only been to one them. The rest he’ll have to learn in a hurry.

Selin Rollan is having a new car built for the 2018 season at Long Road Racing, but plans to run with an existing MX-5 Cup team, which will be announced at a later date.

“I’d like to see something with Mazda in the TCR program,” he said, looking further into his racing career. “Maybe run some IMSA Continental or possibly the prototype challenge presented by Mazda. That’d be pretty cool to do, to see where the ladder takes me. I’d like to ride the MRT24 ladder to the end goal. I’d love to see myself in that prototype, but I know it’s going to take a lot of work.”

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Images courtesy of Brett Becker, Mazda and Juha Lievonen