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Racing Goes Virtual

There is, perhaps, no car manufacturer more committed to growing motorsports than Mazda; and no car more responsible for that than the MX-5 (Miata). On any given weekend, there are more Mazda’s raced than all other manufacturers combined, with much of this volume attributed to the MX-5 at both the professional and grassroots levels.

It is only fitting that when faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the Battery Tender® Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires playing a pivotal role in keeping professional motorsports alive and well in the virtual world.

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MX-5 Cup Racing

The Mazda MX-5 Cup is an exciting spec series. It provides a unique opportunity for up-and-coming drivers to take a turn at professional racing, and for seasoned drivers to continue their passion of racing for as long as possible. Drivers vie for $200,000 in prize money to invest in furthering their racing career, locked in wheel-to-wheel racing with identical MX-5 spec cars, and racing on BFGoodrich g-Force™ 215/610 - 17 racing slicks. It’s a truly controlled experiment where the only variable is your skill behind the wheel.

The racing series partners with Flis Performance in Florida, who is solely responsible for stripping stock MX-5 cars of about 250 parts, and replacing them with a similar quantity of new parts to build the cars to their race-ready standard. The result is an incredible level of parity in the racing that allows each driver's talent to be the difference between the podium and the back of the grid. In 2018, the combined winning margin across 12 races was less than five seconds. This truly level playing field is a great way for drivers to get noticed, as evidenced by the season’s nail-biting results.

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History with iRacing

During the launch of the fourth-generation MX-5 in late 2015, Mazda partnered with iRacing, the world’s premier motorsports simulation platform, to build the car into their simulation engine. Integration into the platform is no small task. From CAD drawings to real performance data, tire degradation data, real engine sounds, and interior scans, the car is replicated almost identically on the platform with comparable performance, looks, and sounds.

To no one’s surprise, through the MX-5 Cup’s virtual racing efforts, the MX-5 quickly became the most-raced car in the simulation world.

The MX-5 Cup took things a step further by creating a virtual championship that mirrored the real-world racing series. The winner of that virtual tournament was invited to the MX-5 Cup club racer shootout: A place where young racers competed in real cars on a real track while being judged for their technical prowess and driving ability. And the winner of that event received a grant to race in the real MX-5 Cup for a year alongside professional drivers.

So, who says video games are a waste of time?

In a shocking result, iRacing champion Glen McGee won the shootout to grab a spot in the real-life series, and proved the connection between virtual motor skills and motorsports.

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Shifting from Track to Screen

Like many other professional sports, the MX-5 Cup was postponed during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with the virtual infrastructure already in place, and with most racers having a practice simulator in their home, the MX-5 Cup was uniquely positioned to provide high-octane thrills to fans of the sport, even in lockdown. While many leagues had no alternative, the MX-5 Cup revved into action.

In a 5-race ESeries, real MX-5 drivers competed for real money, with real broadcasts, real fans, and live racing in the virtual world. The racers didn’t disappoint. While other virtual series struggled to keep their drivers invested, the MX-5 ESeries was familiar to their fans. In the end, it was racer Matt Cresci that captured the championship with a winning margin in the final race of 7.691 seconds. The experiment proved to be a massive success, and the MX-5 Cup plans to continue its virtual racing initiatives.

The Return

While the ESeries has proven wildly successful, there is no replacement for g-force. The smell created by the friction between rubber and asphalt. The real-life electricity of a track on race day.

The Battery Tender® Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires will be back on July 23rd at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Their virtual racing success has only made us more excited to get real racing back on track.

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