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Into The Fire
Mazda Motorsports' 2012 Season Makes Its Stretch Run

Mazda is in the thick of North American road racing like no other manufacturer. In fact, in 2012 the automaker will be involved in more than 200 races, in more than a dozen series at three-dozen tracks across the U.S. and Canada. So for Mazda the season does not end with a bang but with a series of booming explosions that rival most Fourth of July firework extravaganzas. In the next few months a missed shift, poorly cut apex or a gutsy pass may be make-or-break moves for championship contenders. Here is what's in store as these Mazda-supported series come down the stretch.

In a great omen for 2012 one of the season's first series has wrapped up campaign and Mazda has claimed another championship. The 2012 Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car Drivers Championship belongs to Michael Cooper and his Atlanta Motorsports Group prepared Mazdaspeed3. Cooper hot-shoed his Mazda to six wins out of 14 races and was recognized as the 2012 rookie of the year.

NASA Championships

Enjoying its seventh year, the NASA Championships will play host to more than 300 racers in 25-plus classes of racing September 6th to 9th at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The most populous class is expected to be Spec Miata. Any Mazda-powered championship winners from the NASA Championships will be eligible to compete in the Mazda Club Racer Shootout in November.

Cooper Tires USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda

The USF2000 has contested 10 of its 14 races for 2012 and the finale is slated for September 14th to 16th at Virginia International Raceway (VIR). With four races to go the series will be at the second annual Baltimore Grand Prix next but the season hinges on the final double-header run over VIR's 3.27-mile Full Course. It's pretty much a two-way fight. Matthew Brabham, son of IMSA legend Geoff Brabham, and grandson of three-time F1 Champion Jack Brabham, leads the points with three wins. In second place is Spencer Pigot who is a former Skip Barber/Mazda karting shootout winner. Pigot has five wins. In third place, with two wins in the last four races is 2011 Skip Barber National Champion Scott Anderson.

SCCA National Championship Runoffs

The big dog of club racing runoffs, the SCCA National Championship Runoffs, will be celebrating its 49th running in 2012. The biggest class is often Spec Miata, which set the all-time Runoff record with 60 starters in 2010 but the B-Spec racers from the Pirelli World Challenge and numerous other Mazda rides will also be gunning for glory. Expect to see anywhere from four to eight Mazda-powered champions who, like their NASA Championship counterparts, will also earn the right to compete in the Mazda Club Racer Shootout. The Runoffs will be held September 18th to 23rd at Road America.

Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge

Mazda is in the running for the ST Class championship and the series will hit Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca before the show closes at Lime Rock Park on the weekend of September 27th.

Its crowded in the ST class with nine competing makes in the mix but with two races remaining in the 10-race series three have broken away from the pack. Mazda, BMW and Honda are in a scramble.

In the drivers and team championships, it is Mazda in first and third. Pierre Kleinubing and i-Moto Racing lead the points tally with 188 while with Freedom Autosport drivers Tom Long and Derek Whitis in a statistical tire for second with 170 point but the tiebreak is currently going against them so they are scored in third. Kleinubing has one win, a pair of seconds, and a pair of fifths. Long and Whitis have been a model of consistency with six top-10 finishes in the first eight races.

Rolex GRAND-AM GT Championship

Things are tight in the Rolex GRAND-AM GT Championship. After 11 of 13 races the top five in the manufacturers' standings are all within 32 points of each other with Ferrari leading Chevrolet, Porsche, Mazda and BMW. The #70 SpeedSource RX-8 team has been the top Mazda with one win, four podiums, and nine top-7 finishes. The SpeedSource team, series driver and team champions in 2010, is fourth in points. Like the Sports Car Challenge racers the Grand-Am combatants will visit Mazda Raceway prior to the finale at Lime Rock on September 27th.

Skip Barber Summer Series Formula Cars & MAZDASPEED Challenge

After the first 12 of the long 20-race summer campaign it's a Jack versus Jack proposition in Formula cars. Jack Mitchell Jr. leads Jack Eidson in points 297 to 290 and Andrew Hobbs is still within striking distance in third with 271. There is still plenty of season left. The series will have double-headers at Mid-Ohio, Autobahn Country Club, and Mazda Raceway before concluding at Lime Rock. The top drivers from both the Winter and Summer series will be competing in a post-season shootout for a Mazda Road to Indy seat in the 2013 USF2000 Championship.

Over in the Miata-based MAZDASPEED Challenge Kenton Koch and his 280 points leads Bryan Hixon, 271, and Brett Hawkins, 248, for the championship after 10 of 16 races. The series will have double-headers at Mid-Ohio and Autobahn Country Club before concluding at Lime Rock October 5th.

Formula Drift

Where road racing relies on grip Formula Drift looks for slip. Mazda is represented by two RX-8 teams in Formula D, the premier drifting series in the U.S. Kyle Mohan Racing and Team Bergenholtz will be heading to Irwindale Speedway in Southern California, aka the House of Drift, October 12th to wrap up the season on a high note.

Skip Barber/Mazda Karting Shootout

Perhaps the lowest wrung on Mazda's Driver Development Ladder the Skip Barber/Mazda Karting Shootout puts 50 of the top kart racers from across the county on the track with a chance to grab the brass ring; a seat in the 2013 Skip Barber series, the gateway into the Mazda Road to Indy program. Karters will converge on VIR for four days of intense competition October 15th to 18th.

Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered By Mazda

With eight wins from the first 10 races, Tristan Nunez leads the L1 Mazda-powered class championship by 22, 184 to 162 over rookie Mikhail Goikhberg. The series will race at VIR before concluding at Road Atlanta during the Petit Le Mans weekend October 17th to 19th.

Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear

The oldest continuously run road-racing series in America is the Star Mazda Championship. Now in its 21st season, the Star Mazda series gives many racers their initial exposure to open wheel racing. With six wins from the first 12 races, series rookie Jack Hawksworth is batting .500 and leading the championship by 41 points over a surging Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves, and Connor De Phillippi. The series will have double-headers at Baltimore and Mazda Raceway before heading to Road Atlanta for the season finale October 17th to 19th.

SCCA Pro-Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup & Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge

The competition in the MX-5 Cup has been fierce with four different winners in the first seven races. As the series turns for home with four events left on the calendar, four drivers have broken away from the pack as Stevan McAleer leads John Dean II, Ara Malkhassian and Christian Szymczak with only 46 points covering the lot. Before the double-header Road Atlanta finale, the Cup cars will race at VIR, and Coronado Island (San Diego) and the standing should be even more stacked as the line up on the grid at VIR.

The competition within the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge class has been strong with four different winners. The three drivers leading the points chase are Zachry Lee, Bryan Hixon, and David Knight.

American LeMans Series Presented by Tequila Patron

LMP1 has been a straightforward, stand in the middle of the ring and swing two-car battle between the Mazda-powered Dyson team and the Muscle Milk HPD with a scant 12 points of separation. The Dyson team Victory Lane at the season opener at Sebring, and won again at Road America in the closest finish in ALMS history. The team plans to stay frosty because with three races remaining, Baltimore, VIR, and the season ending Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda October 17th, they expect even more on-track theatrics. Dyson Racing is no stranger to late season intensity as they are seeking to repeat their 2011 season championship.

Mazda Club Racer Shootout

Another Ground Zero stepping stone and the biggest prize in all of club racing for road racers is a full ride in the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup. That's what's up for grabs at the Mazda Club Racer Shootout. To be eligible for the shootout, a driver must win a recognized club racing championship with Mazda power. This year, for the first time, Canadian racers are eligible for the prize, valued at $75,000. It all goes down November 12th at California's Buttonwillow Raceway.

Skip Barber Racing School Champions Shootout

The Skip Barber Racing School Champions Shootout promises intense competition and a healthy dose of late-season drama. Held December 14th to 16th at Road Atlanta the shootout mixes the top racers in the Skip Barber Winter and Summer Series for Formula Cars with a fully funded season in the 2012 USF2000 Championship for the drive that comes out the other side on top.

Mazda pays it forward with its innovative MAZDASPEED Motorsports Ladder and the Mazda Road to Indy that rewards star-bound drivers who win one of its series by sponsoring them in a more advanced racing series. The ultimate wrung on the ladder is Indycar and the Indianapolis 500.