The first race of the Teen Mazda Challenge West series showcased youth and enthusiasm, and demonstrated the viability of the early 1.6-liter cars at Willow Springs International Raceway May 4 and 5.

Charlie Hayes’ blistering 1:36.769 qualifying time landed him on pole for Saturday’s race, followed by Alex Brauer, who was racing for the first time this season, with Joey Bickers in third.

When the green flag dropped, Brauer chased Hayes into Turn 1, a fast, banked left-hander with an exit you can’t see from the entry. The two ran nose to tail for the first few laps swapping positions once a lap, always in Turn 1.

Just a couple of spots back, Bickers and Joey Jordan were working together to try to catch up with the front runners until a hiccup in Turn 1.

“I gave him the signal to bump-draft me and I went into fifth gear,” Bickers said. “I usually don’t have to go into fifth gear, but I did, and when I went back down for fourth, I hit second. So, that caused trouble for both of us.”

In the end, it was Hayes on the top step, followed by Brauer and Bickers.

After a qualifying race Sunday, Hayes was on pole again with Jordan and Tyler Vance in second and third, followed by Joey Bickers in fourth and Rob Burgoon in fifth. The front three checked out from the field, but never from one another. The three battled back and forth all race long.

“The race was just nuts, a three-car battle between me, Charlie Hayes and Joey Bickers,” said Joey Jordan, who finished second. “I led for awhile and they got around me. They worked together and got a gap. Luckily there were three E30s that slowed them down and allowed me to close the gap.”

Then, on the final lap, Hayes made a last-ditch effort to get past Bickers on the outside of infamous Turn 9. His car lost grip, and he took it off track to finish third behind Jordan.

“At the end, I saw Charlie on my outside and I didn’t know if he was going to go for it or not, but I was going to stick to my line,” Bickers said after his first Spec Miata win. “We were just position changing all the time. It seemed to be a change for the lead every lap. It was a really exciting race. I want thank Mark from Iron Canyon a whole lot.”

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