After a win at the opening round of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BF Goodrich in 2022, Copeland Motorsports returned to the Daytona International Speedway with winning on their mind. Entering a trio of drivers in the first two rounds of the 2023 season, Tyler Gonzalez, Max Opalski, and Jeremy Fletcher were looking to start their season off on the right foot. Earning a win, two podiums, and three top-five results, Copeland Motorsports leads the first weekend with the point lead as they have set the tone for the 2023 season.
It was Max Opalski who led the way during Thursday afternoon qualifying as a shortened session due to a yellow flag caused some drivers to be further back on the grid than they should have. Opalski showed speed early and often that netted him a third-place starting position for race one. The second-year driver returned to the Copeland Motorsports squad for 2023 and his renewed focus and energy were proven throughout the opening few sessions on the weekend. Further back in the running order were rookie Jeremy Fletcher and 2022 four-time race winner Tyler Gonzalez in 19th and 20th.
The start of race one took place as the sun began to fade behind the Daytona International Speedway grandstands with Opalski immediately jumping to the second position. Running in the top-three for the first 20 minutes of the race, contact in the first corner at the start of lap nine pushed Opalski down to 11th. Gonzalez, starting the race from the outside of row ten was on a tear gaining nine positions during the first lap and another seven over the next two laps. Working his way forward to run second at the end of lap ten, Gonzalez was in contention for the win. While a slow start and contact for Fletcher saw him mired back in the 19th and 20th positions for the first twenty minutes of the race after rebounding from closing the first lap in 29th, the rookie managed to get his wheels under him and began to march his way forward. Running 14th at the end of lap eleven, Fletcher was aiming for a top-ten result in his first Mazda MX-5 Cup event. At mid-race distance, it was Gonzalez who led the Copeland Motorsports contingent in the second position with Opalski battling his way back to tenth and Fletcher up into P13.
With ten minutes remaining, it was Gonzalez who was pushed back to the fifth position as Opalski had worked his way back to ninth. While a charge forward by Fletcher was stalled, he was stuck in a group of cars that were battling hard and he had fallen to P17. Learning and gaining experience, Fletcher gained three positions on the next lap to move to 14th. In a dramatic last lap, Gonzalez fell back to fourth on the entry of turn one. Three-quarters of the way through the lap he had moved to third but with a corner to go he was second. Dragging his feet to get a good push from behind, Gonzalez drafted by the leader to take the win by .015, his second win at Daytona in two years. Catching back up and running in the lead group, Opalski was able to cross the line 11th, a result that was reflective of his progress through the weekend while Fletcher earn a P15 result in his first national event.
“Two years in a row and two wins in Daytona,” explained Dean Copeland. “Always great to start the season on top and look forward to trying to do it all over again tomorrow.”
Back to the track on Friday, Gonzalez lined up fourth, Opalski fifth, and Fletcher 15th for the start of the second wheel-to-wheel action of the weekend. Gonzalez led early on as he battled in the top-three throughout the race while Opalski battled hard in the top-ten. As the field battled throughout the 45-minute race, Fletcher was involved in on-track contact with ten minutes remaining. Bringing out the caution to remove the damaged race car, Gonzalez circulated in the lead before a one lap dash to the checkered. Leading all the way until the final few hundred yards, Gonzalez fell victim to the Daytona draft to finish second. Sophomore driver Max Opalski had his best result of his MX-5 Cup career as he ran inside the top-ten all weekend long. After leading the Copeland Motorsports crew in qualifying, a tenth-place finish in race one opened the door for a career-best P5 in race two. Falling back to eleventh after running as high as fourth in race two, Opalski drove like a seasoned veteran in the last half of the race to methodically work his way forward for his best career result.
The next stop for the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BF Goodrich is March 3-5 in St. Petersburg at the Grand Prix of St. Pete.