Shift Up Now Athletes Sabre Cook, Hannah Grisham and Loni Unser competed for Hixon Motor Sports in Rounds 1 and 2 of the Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BF Goodrich at Daytona International Speedway on January 28-29, 2021.
Cook made her MX-5 debut in the No. 37 Apple Motorsports Car and Grisham made her pro-racing debut in the Hagerty Motorsports Mazda. Unser, driving the Swamp Dragon Hot Sauce car, returned to the series after a year competing with Round 3 Racing in the World Racing League.
Qualifying immediately proved how important the draft would be all weekend. Cook lead the trio of racers, just 0.05 away from earning a top-15 spot, with Unser just 0.01 behind and Grisham only a few tenths further back.
In the first race of the double-header, Cook made the most of her starting position. Using her previous pro-racing experience in open wheel series, the 26-year-old native of Grand Junction, Colorado quickly made her way up to 13th place and held that position until the checkered flag.
Grisham drove the No. 72 Hagerty Mazda from a starting position in the mid 20s to the top 15, gaining ground on her competitors and proving her pace. During a late race caution, a radio malfunction caused her to lose contact with her spotter and forced her to take more caution at the final restart. As a result, 20-year-old driver from Glendora, California dropped back without enough time to advance further.
Unser was also fighting in the midst of the pack, but a high-speed spin damaged the motor of the No. 92 Swamp Dragon Hot Sauce car, and the 23-year-old driver from, Hailey, Idaho had to retire from the race. This also meant a new chassis for Unser the following day.
In the second race of the double header, Cook was once again in the top 15, but unable to break away into clean air. After a heated battle between competitors in 13th through 18th place, she prevailed and finished P13, earning two top-15 finishes in her MX-5 Cup debut.
Grisham’s hopes for the Hagerty car were high for the second race but she got separated from the group early. Without enough draft to close the gap, she settled for a top 20 finish at the flag and a great showing of her potential in future races.
Unser’s new chassis and engine proved to be a challenge for the second race. Being at a track where so much of the lap is spent at full throttle, and in the draft, Unser was forced to retire from the competition.
Both Unser and Grisham are scheduled to compete at least one more race with Hixon Motor Sports – managed by another Shift Up Now Athlete, Shea Holbrook – in the MX-5 Cup this season, while Cook will be shifting her focus to her open wheel season, where she is returning to the W Series for her second year.