Many racers start their careers in karts while in grade school, a decade before they are even legal to drive on the streets. It is not uncommon to have a driver compete in over 500 races before they advance to the professional ranks. Michael Cooper may have set a modern day record in winning the 2012 Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car Drivers Championship in his MAZDASPEED3. Cooper’s entire racing career has been less than 50 races, all of them in a Mazda, and all of them since 2009 when he attended the Skip Barber Racing School at Lime Rock Park.
Cooper drove his Atlanta Motorsports Group-prepared MAZDASPEED3 to six wins in the season’s 14 races. During the weekend-closing triple-header at Sonoma Raceway, Cooper finished third, second and ended the season with a flag-to-flag victory, including the fastest race lap, in the final race of the season. As the only Mazda competing against a dozen Hondas and VWs, Cooper came close to giving Mazda a manufacturers’ championship as well. At the series awards dinner, Cooper also was recognized as the Touring Car Rookie-Of-The-Year and Atlanta Motorsports Group was named Touring Car Team-Of-The-Year.
In addition to his six wins, Cooper started from the pole in seven races, led 11 races, and led the most laps in six. He finished in the top-five in 13 of 14 races. His only glitch was crash damage received in the second Mid-Ohio race, which resulted in his only DNF of the year. Cooper’s year-long rival for the championship was Todd Lamb. Lamb is another Mazda ladder grad, having won the 2009 MX-5 Cup Championship and the 2008 NASA Spec Miata Championship.
Michael Cooper, 2012 Pirelli World Challenge Touring car Drivers Champion: “What an amazing year 2012 has been in the MAZDASPEED3, I couldn’t have done this without everyone at Mazda and Atlanta Motorsports Group. The incredible passion for what they do ensures success for all of their drivers. Having a car that is as fun to drive as the MAZDASPEED3, just adds to the thrill of victory and this championship.
John Doonan, Motorsports Director, Mazda North American Operations: “Michael Cooper is the new model for how one can get into racing without any previous background, and without a large garage full of cars and equipment. Michael started with a three-day Skip Barber Racing School, competed successfully within the Skip Barber school series and then came into the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup where he was an immediate front-runner. As a part of the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Ladder, his winning the 2011 MX-5 Cup championship earned him the Mazda scholarship support to move up to World Challenge this year. I can’t say enough about Michael and the Atlanta Motorsports Group effort this year. A 43% win rate with a 93% finish rate is just fantastic in this class. If not for unavoidable crash damage he would have completed every lap of every race.”
Jason Hoover, Owner, Atlanta Motorsports Group: “Michael did an amazing job this year. This is the second year for the Atlanta Motorsports Group racing with Michael. We are now two-for-two, having won the 2011 MX-5 Cup Championship together. I can’t thank the team and Mazda enough for all of the hard work these past two years. The Mazda ladder allowed us to move up as a team, which allowed us to accelerate the learning curve for Michael.”