Simulator Pioneer Goes Pro: SM Champion Joins Winding Road Racing For Battery Tender MX-5 Cup
By Winding Road Staff
April 18, 2016
By now the story is familiar:
A young talent spends extensive time on road racing simulators. He (or she) gets pretty good and enters a simulator competition. He wins the competition and gets sponsorship to drive a “real” racecar. And, surprise, he turns out to be quite talented racing in the physical word, just like in the photon world.
Pro phenoms Lucas Ordonez, Brian Heitkotter and Jann Mardenborough are well-known examples of this story. More recently, iRacing champion Glenn McGee won the Mazda Road To 24 Shootout and has converted that into a pro drive in the Battery Tender MX-5 Cup series.
This approach got jump started in 2008 with the advent of two landmark simulations: Gran Turismo 5 and iRacing. The popularity of these sims, coupled with competitions sponsored by automotive companies, made the gamer-to-racer phenomenon a reality. But, as is often the case, there were pioneers of this approach before it went mainstream.
Mark Drennan is one of those pioneers. Drennan, well ensconced in a corporate job in Silicon Valley, began racing simulators in the late ‘90s. He found and practiced with a game called Grand Prix Legends, which re-created the cars and tracks of the 1967 F1 season. “Grand Prix Legends was known at the time as having the most accurate physics model in the racing game world and was developed by David Kaemmer, who went on to build iRacing a decade later” observed Drennan.
Drennan spent six years driving Grand Prix Legends before he moved to running TaG karts. Apparently, Grand Prix Legend’s physic engine was useful because Drennan soon became the 2006 Champion in TaG National Cup Light and then finished second in the SKUSA Super Nationals in TaG Masters. Drennan moved to Spec Miata in 2007, becoming the San Francisco Region SCCA champion and in 2008 the SoPac Division Champion.
After a break from racing, Drennan came back in 2014, winning the SCCA NorPac Division and NASA NorCal region championships. He also won pole at the SCCA runoffs that year. 2015 was perhaps even more successful, when Drennan won the Western and Eastern NASA championships in Spec Miata and also the NASA Western States crown in Spec E46. Following his championship wins, Drennan was the runner-up for the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout. He capped off the year winning the E1 class at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
Drennan comments “I really love Spec Miata. The competition is so strong that you have to be on your game all the time and, as a result, you can learn so much. The car is also great fun to drive.” At the same, he described a long-standing interest in pro racing, “I always thought that a pro series, if it had bucket list tracks and the intense competition we find in SM, would be exciting. Battery Tender MX-5 Cup seems ideal in that regard, with great tracks and a big field full of proven talent. The fact that we also get to run the new Global MX-5 Cup car is icing on the cake.”
Drennan has joined Winding Road Racing for his Battery Tender MX-5 Cup debut. “Winding Road Racing has come into the series with an intense approach that fits my desire to win. For example, they’ve enticed NASA champion Corey Rueth to the table and I get to run with West Coast Teen Mazda Challenge winner Mason Filippi, who I know from MRT24. They have partnered with my good friend Tim Barber as crew chief, and brought in engine and data guru Todd Therkildsen” says Drennan. “The camaraderie in the paddock is important to me and Winding Road Racing, despite being a new team, already feels like family. Of course I knew some of their people prior to this, but I’ve enjoyed meeting new drivers, like fellow 25 Hours of Thunderhill winner Tom Martin and some very dedicated mechanics” Drennan commented.
The 2016 Battery Tender MX-5 Cup kicks off April 28-May 1 at Mark’s home track -- Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Winding Road Racing
2601 McHale Court, Suite 100
Austin, TX 78758