NASA Great Lakes welcomed the Spec MX-5 Challenge Series Presented by Toyo Tires to Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course this past weekend for round four of the 2023 season. A total of 17 racers registered for the event, with seven of them jumping behind the wheel of a Spec MX-5 to experience their first taste of SMX competition. If fighting for position in the 60-car run group weren’t enough, cool and damp temperatures only added to the challenge of tackling the 2.25-mile Pro Course.
A chill was in the air as Saturday’s qualifying session got underway under clear skies, but a damp track. With temperatures hovering in the mid 40s, Alex Bertagnoli claimed pole position with the session’s fastest time of 1:44.940, with championship challenger Nathan Nicholson just .03 seconds behind in P2. Cam Ebben was a further half-second behind to claim P3, with series veteran Michael Borden in P4, and Will Robusto rounding out the top five.
Later in the day, temperatures dropped further as clouds began to gather. The entire grid went out on slicks with light rain in the forecast. The skies opened as soon as the green flag dropped and rain began to fall. Nathan Nicholson’s pre-race preparations and comfort level with the surface in the rain at Mid-Ohio propelled him to win his first race of the 2023 season, as Spec MX-5 Shootout winner Chase Jones put on a master class, gaining eight positions while using the rain line to jump to P2 in his first-ever race in an SMX car. Polesitter Alex Bertagnoli finished in P3 to claim the final step of race one’s podium.
The grid for Sunday’s race was decided by the fastest lap in Saturday’s race, putting Corbin Collins on pole, and a shuffled field further down. Attrition was high throughout the weekend as Mid-Ohio claimed several victims. Race two began with 15 drivers, including Don Squirek, who worked tirelessly to fix a broken differential to salvage his first race weekend of the season. The race was filled with action from the start as dry but chilly conditions ruled the morning contest.
Collins’ fast lap in in the rain during Saturday’s race put him on pole for Sunday’s race. He finished 12th Saturday and eighth Sunday.
Chase Jones crossed the finish line first, capping off an impressive debut with the series. Nathan Nicholson finished just 2 seconds behind to claim his second podium of the weekend. The other Spec MX-5 Shootout winner, Reid Sweeney, finished just a second behind Nicholson, earning a trophy to celebrate his first weekend in the car.