With some of the usual gang of racers down in Long Beach to watch the Long Beach Grand Prix, NASA SoCal Spec Miata converged on Buttonwillow Raceway for the April event.
2023 points leader and Teen Mazda Challenge driver Cooper Hicks set the pace in qualifying with a 2:05.502, which put him on pole for Saturday’s main race. Fellow TMC competitor Joey Andrews was a second back with a 2:06.682, with Alex Kuretski of Team Winged Foot Racing in third with a 2:07.926. TMC driver Sophia Storey had the engine in her car let go during morning warmup, so she was out for the weekend.
When the green flag flew, Hicks stepped out to an early lead and he established a comfortable gap on the rest of the field. He was able to hold first place from flag to flag to take the win.
“I pulled out pretty early and I was just kind of racing against myself, trying to get faster laps,” Hicks said. “I got into some lapped traffic a little bit toward the end, but I got through that quickly.”
The battle for second was a bit more lively. Andrews and Kuretski traded spots vigorously during the 30-minute race. In the end, Andrews had gained the upper hand and he finished second.
“I started P2 and finished P2, but the race was more exciting than the numbers show. We had a great battle all race long,” Andrews said. “He was staying ahead and then I got ahead of him and he kept chasing me, and it was just lap after lap after lap. With a couple of off-track excursions, we managed to keep it clean, but it was a fantastic race.”
Had the race lasted a bit longer, Kuretski might have been able to give Andrews more of a run for his money, but when the checkers flew, Kuretski finished in third place, still appearing large in Andrews’ rearview mirror.
“It was a lot of fun. Joey was really fast. He was on stickers so I knew I had to try to get ahead of him first,” Kuretski said. “I had a great start and I was able to get in front of him and then I had few moments. I dropped a couple off on Phil Hill and he got past, and I really enjoyed catching up to him and by the end of the race I was right there. It was really a lot of fun, a fantastic race.”
The TMC podium was Hicks in first and Andrews in second.
Hicks had the fastest lap of the race so he was on pole for Sunday’s qualifying race, which finished in the same order as Saturday’s race. With Hicks on pole for the main, he and Andrews were poised to battle for position through the fast Turn 1. Andrews had a good push from behind from Brett Becker at the green flag, but Hicks was able to take the lead into Turn 1 and pull ahead.
Just behind Hicks, Sunday’s race was a replay of Saturday, with Kuretski and Andrews dicing and trading places every lap or two. Becker lost ground in the fast Bus Stop, but could close the gap on other portions of the track. When Andrews and Kuretski both went off at the exit of the last turn onto the front straight, Becker was able to take over second place.
Three laps later, Becker made the same mistake, and Andrews and Kuretski got by to retake second and third. Two laps later, Kuretski missed a shift and Becker moved back into third, a spot he would hold till the finish.
“I got to run with Joey Andrews and Alex Kuretski, and I stuck with those guys for a while and followed them, and eventually got past both of them when they made a large mistake coming onto the front straight,” Becker said. “Joey and Alex came back by me when I made the same mistake coming onto the front straight. Then I got around Alex and I was trying to keep him behind me. I think he had some car trouble after that, but I didn’t know it at the time, so I was just running for dear life at the end of it just to hold onto third.”
Andrews maintained pace and held on for second place.
“It was quite a race to say the least. Lap after lap we were trading positions,” Andrews said. “I was trying to get by him and he was defending really, really well, and then him getting by me and me dealing with a couple of little car gremlins, but it was an incredible race because of how unpredictable it was. It wasn’t like either one of us had outright pace on our own, so we really had to battle for it. Just when I thought the race was going to settle, it never did.”
Despite a racing incident with an out-of-class car about halfway through the race, Hicks was way out in front for the win,
“Knowing we’re not at full speed going into Turn 1, I was able to brake a lot deeper. I just outbraked him. I braked way past braking zone,” Hicks said. “I went a little too deep, but I was able to pull away.”
The TMC podium again was Hicks in first and Andrews in second.