With its diverse group of closely-knit competitors, friendliness toward rookies, and knack for kick-starting racing careers, the Mazda MX-5 Cup feels a bit like college sports. Professional in every sense, but full of young athletes who are there to study the sport, get their tires wet, discover their driving style, and realize their full potential.
At Mazda University, Connor’s freshman year was full of ups, downs, and epic comebacks. After starting the season strong, he hit a rut and finished poorly in a few mid-season races, even wrecking in one. But things really turned around at the close, when Connor pulled off an exciting five-race podium streak. Heading into the championship’s dramatic finish, this late-season upswing was enough to earn him the status of “championship contender.”
A contender he was, and if not for some truly unfortunate luck, a champion he would be. Connor began his final race in 2nd overall, just 30 series points short of front-runner Jared Thomas. Even if he tied with Thomas in this last race, Connor would win the tiebreaker and take home the prize. The cup was well within his rookie’s reach. He only had to stay the course.
Mazda MX-5 Cup races are famous for their several-decimal-points-out close finishes, but this final took that intensity to a new level. Early on in lap two, Thomas nearly spun out, landing him at the back of the pack in 17th place. Amazed at his luck, Connor played it relatively safe the rest of the race, finishing in a healthy 6th place with the assumption that the title was already his.
Meanwhile, Thomas crawled forward, refusing to give up. Over the course of 13 minutes, he managed to get back into the top ten, finishing in 9th place. It was an impressive comeback, but not enough to beat Connor, points-wise. That is until a post-race penalty cost the 8th-place driver, Alex Bachoura ten points. This bumped Alex down to 9th and Thomas up to 8th, inching him 10 crucial points ahead of Connor. And back on top of the total points podium.
The drama cost Connor the cup and $250,000 in prize money. But he gained the respect of the Mazda world, earning himself the nickname of “The Prodigy.” And to sweeten the deal, he was awarded Rookie of the Year.
Not bad for a freshman.