It takes a lot to win in Spec Miata in any region. The class sets the standard for tight competition, so when Uthman Alaoui began racing in Spec Miata and in his first and last season of eligibility in Teen Mazda Challenge, he managed to score a podium finish in his first race out of comp school at Willow Springs in February.
That second-place finish also netted him a win in Teen Mazda Challenge, so it became clear early on that the junior at U.C. Riverside had more than just good luck on his side. Alaoui cemented his place as one of the drivers to beat in the Southern California Region by taking two Spec Miata wins, which also earned him two TMC wins in the process.
Saturday’s race was one of traffic management. The Spec Miata polesitter paced the group a bit too close behind the region’s largest ever 944 Spec field, and so finishing well meant negotiating heavy traffic for most of the race.
Alaoui and teammate and fellow TMC driver Cooper Hicks established a bit of separation and the teammates engaged in some friendly competition. Rob Burgoon and Mark Polunin were running third and fourth despite some agricultural work from Burgoon in the early laps.
Late in the race, Hicks went two off the back side of the exit curb at the Bus Stop and shredded a left front wheel, which ended his race. It would have been Hicks’ highest finish in Spec Miata and Teen Mazda Challenge. That put Burgoon in second and Polunin in third, where they finished.
“After Cooper had a bit of a problem in the Bus Stop, then it was just me and Rob Burgoon and Mark Polunin, who are already pretty seasoned drivers themselves. After that, it was just defending, trusting my gut through traffic,” Alaoui said. “After all that defending, we came home, led every lap and got a good starting position for Sunday’s qualifying race. My first ever Spec Miata win. It’s probably going to take a while to settle in, but I’m also kind of shocked this happened this quickly.”
After two offs early in the race, Burgoon managed to get within striking distance of Alaoui, but wasn’t able to improve his position from there.
“I ended up going off twice in something like a lap or two, and from there it was just dig in and run down the leaders, and fortunately they were still getting slowed by the traffic,” Burgoon said. “So, I was able to chase them down and caught Uthman at the end of the race, but his defense was just a little too strong and this track is just a little bit too difficult to pass on, so I wasn’t able to get the win, but I’m feeling pretty good about the charge back to the front after some setbacks.”
Polunin was grateful to finish on the podium and for the heads-up driving by the 944 racers.
“All three of us in the top three were getting really lucky with the 944 coin toss. They were letting us by when we needed to and we were getting through, making progress,” Polunin said. “What I really liked is that I was able to catch up to the lead pack and it was really close finish, so overall I’m just happy. I went from fifth to third and it’s a podium, it’s points, so I’m feeling good.”
In Teen Mazda Challenge, Alaoui got the win, followed by Mark Polunin and Sophia Storey in third.
Sunday’s race went flag to flag without issues. Again, mixed-class traffic came into play, but not until later in the race because the Spec Miata field took the first green.
KC Cook has notched a couple of podiums this year and he was looking good for the win on Sunday, having led every lap till the last lap. He went out on new tires and was able to keep Alaoui behind him till the very last lap, when a dust cloud and an out-of-class car presented him with a choice.
“There was a lot of dust coming through the Bus Stop. A 944 was really slow, and I had Uthman right behind me and I picked the wrong lane,” said Cook, who finished second. “I went to the outside of the 944 and he didn’t see me and moved me into the dirt. Uthman got the right lane and was able to cross me up and get in front of me for the remainder of that last lap. I tried to make something happen in that final corner and I just lost the rear end and Uthman was able to hold it and take the win. Congrats to Uthman and congrats to Rob for their podium and the win. Uthman is driving great. He’s going to be a challenge this year.”
Burgoon did not put on fresh rubber, so even though he was running consistent lap times, Cook and Alaoui began to expand their lead.
“So, about halfway through the race I started running experiments because they were starting to disappear into the distance and there were no cars behind me,” Burgoon said after his third-place finish. “I was trail-braking into Turn 1 more and trying to use more of some of inside curbs on various parts of the track, and learned some things about driving this place fast when the track is really hot.”
Once Alaoui got around Cook in the Bus Stop dust cloud, he sprinted toward the checkers and his second win of the weekend.
“Honestly I’m just so happy to represent OpenFender.com, to get them a win both days as soon as they started supporting me, so I’m really happy for Mason Filippi and his company,” Alaoui said. “I had a great battle with KC. We were both blasting after I got by Rob on the first lap and I had some good battles, got side by side with KC a couple of times and then it just came down to managing lapped traffic and at the end of the day it came down to who was the better manager of it, so, yeah, another win.”
Alaoui got the Sunday TMC win, followed by Cooper Hicks and Sophia Storey.