Sparks Sits Atop Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup Practice One Time Charts from NOLA

AVONDALE, La. – Nathanial Sparks, of Spanish Fort, Alabama, was the top driver following the first official practice session of the SCCA Pro Racing Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires, part of the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park. John Dean, of Sebring, Florida, and Dean Copeland, of Bowie, Maryland, completed the podium positions, in that order.

Sparks wheeled his No. 8 OOTSK Performance/Sick Sideways MX-5 to a best lap of 1:57.500 (81.804 mph) at the 13-turn, 2.67-mile permanent road course. As this is the first race event for the Mazda MX-5 Cup at the country club-style circuit, Sparks said that most of his time during the session was devoted to learning the nuances of the course.

"It's a pretty exciting track," Sparks said. "Looking at the track map, you think to yourself 'I'll have this figured out in no time.' But, once you're out there you start finding the little bumps and imperfections on the track. The apex curbing is a little different than when we tested here before the season, so that took some time to figure out.

"It's going to come down to consistency. It's going to come down to making competitive laps, routinely, without making that big mistake that drops you five spots."

In his No. 16 Bulb Jacket/Sick Sideways MX-5, Dean found himself near the top of the time sheets after turning the second-fast time of the session. Dean stopped the timing clocks at 1:57.599 (81.735 mph). While he was happy about the performance of two of his team cars, Dean was unsure what the weekend would bring as rain is in the forecast for the remainder of the race weekend.

"The track was difficult," Dean said. "I think it's going to be tough for any one driver to break away from the rest of the pack. There's going to be a lot of passing and a lot of drafting, with the long straights. The way the track is set up, you can run a couple different lines and still achieve the same outcome.

"Today the track was very green and dusty, which also made it tough. We're feeling pretty good moving toward qualifying, especially if this was the single dry session we get. If we do get rain, it could make for some interesting racing. That could especially be the case here since a little rain may not change the dry and wet racing line too much."

Copeland finished the session in third at the controls of his No. 7 Copeland Motorsports/Sync Speed Inc. MX-5. His fastest lap registered at 1:57.636 (81.710 mph). While Copeland said he was confident there was still speed to be found in his car, he was also certain it would not matter as he said that he thinks the forecasted rain will become a reality.

"The track's a lot of fun," Copeland said. "It's a little different setup because everything is flat. You have to be able to roll speed and transition between going right and left, without scrubbing speed by spinning the tires. I think we have a little more left in it, but the field is tight.

"To be honest, I don't think any of this matters. It'll be all out the window tomorrow since it's going to raining. From my perspective, today was just for fun."

Drake Kemper, of Toluca Lake, California, was fourth as the checkered flag fell on the session. In his No. 99 Royal Rugby/Mazda Motorsports Development/BFGoodrich Tires MX-5, Kemper put in a best lap of 1:57.664 (81.690 mph).

Finishing fifth was substitute driver, and team owner, Chad McCumbee, of Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, in the No. 29 ModSpace MX-5. He finished the session with a fast time of 1:57.741 (81.637 mph).

In the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge, Robby Foley, of Randolph, New Jersey, was the top driver. He turned a lap of 2:01.686 (78.990 mph).

"This is a new track for me," Foley said. "I'm just trying to learn the little things about it. We made some shock changes from where we were in testing, and it worked out pretty well.

"Practice two will be a lot of the same, but also adjusting to the different conditions. It's going to be wet at some point tomorrow, so that will make things interesting."

Retaining the final two podium positions were Sam Adams, of Richfield, Wisconsin, and Nikko Reger, of Houston, respectively. Adams turned a best lap of 2:01.984 (78.797 mph), while Reger's best lap tripped the clocks at 2:02.399 (78.530 mph).

The drivers of the Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup are next on track for their second practice session, Friday at 11:20 a.m. (CDT). Qualifying follows later in the day, at 3:30 p.m. (CDT). Race one is set to start April 11, at 11:30 a.m. (CDT), with race two set for a green flag, at 5:15 p.m. (CDT), on April 12.

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Avondale, LA – Results from Practice 1 for Saturday's Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BF Goodrich Round 3 race, part of the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park with position, class, car number (in parenthesis), driver, hometown, car, fastest lap time, and speed in miles per hour

1, (8)Nathanial Sparks, Spanish Fort AL, MX-5, 01:57.5, 81.804

2, (16)John Dean II, Sebring FL, MX-5, 01:57.6, 81.735

3, (7)Dean Copeland, Bowie MD, MX-5, 01:57.6, 81.71

4, (99)Drake Kemper, Toluca Lake CA, MX-5, 01:57.7, 81.69

5, (29)Chad McCumbee, Ocean Isle Beach NC, MX-5, 01:57.7, 81.637

6, (11)Ara Malkhassian, Houston TX, MX-5, 01:57.8, 81.608

7, (44)Patrick Gallagher, Thornville OH, MX-5, 01:57.8, 81.596

8, (35)Devin Jones, Mooresville NC, MX-5, 01:57.9, 81.536

9, (14)Sarah Montgomery, Lafayette LA, MX-5, 01:58.3, 81.283

10, (24)Peter Portante, Plainville CT, MX-5, 01:58.4, 81.205

11, (77)Hernan Palermo(R), Houston TX, MX-5, 01:59.1, 80.694

12, (4)Kyle Loustaunau(R), Vacaville CA, MX-5, 01:59.2, 80.635

13, (34)Matt Koskinen(R), Harper Woods MI, MX-5, 01:59.4, 80.53

14, (26)Tim Probert, Houston TX, MX-5, 01:59.4, 80.505

15, (32)Keith Jensen(R), Dallas TX, MX-5, 01:59.4, 80.504

16, (17)Alex Bachoura(R), Houston TX, MX-5, 01:59.5, 80.457

17, (10)Brent Mosing, Lafayette LA, MX-5, 01:59.6, 80.38

18, (23)Christian Tetzlaff, Athens GA, MX-5, 02:02.3, 78.617

19, (28)Aurora Straus(R), New York NY, MX-5, 02:05.7, 76.479

1, (65)Robby Foley, Randolph NJ, SBMX-5, 02:01.7, 78.99

2, (67)Sam Adams, Richfield WI, SBMX-5, 02:02.0, 78.797

3, (68)Nikko Reger, Houston TX, SBMX-5, 02:02.4, 78.53

4, (61)Ben Albano, Greenwich CT, SBMX-5, 02:02.6, 78.419

5, (62)Kieron O'Rourke, Grand Cayman, SBMX-5, 02:03.9, 77.554

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