The Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires took to the track for two practice sessions at Watkins Glen International on Thursday. Gresham Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance) was the fastest driver of the day, while IndyCar veteran James Hinchcliffe (No. 3 JTR Motorsports Engineering), who is a guest driver for this event, showed excellent pace with the sixth-fastest lap of the day.

Wagner’s quick lap was a 2m08.629s. He was followed on the timing sheets by Robert Noaker (No. 13 Robert Noaker Racing) and reigning champion Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering). All three times were set in the afternoon session.

Qualifying for Rounds Seven and Eight at Watkins Glen will take place Friday at 8:00am ET.

“If you’re fast enough and get into the lead pack and have good momentum, then qualifying isn’t as important,” Wagner said. “But if something happens and the leaders break away, you can’t work your way forward too much here. It’s pretty draft dependent. You either get one really big draft that you can race in or these broken up, two and three car packs that get isolated. I guess the best strategy is to just qualify as best as you can, hope it’s near the front and you don’t have to worry about working your way forward.”

There was lots of interest in the performance of Hinchcliffe, who makes his MX-5 Cup debut this weekend. The longtime fan of the series is taking part in the event as a guest driver and is not eligible for points. He came away from practice with the sixth-fastest time of the day.

“I’m having a blast,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s a baptism by fire, but the JTR crew have really prepared me in the best way possible. I’m getting used to the mayhem out on track, trying to find the right gaps and the right tows for the big laps. Pace-wise I feel OK in the car; now it’s just kind of mastering those nuances, which these guys have years of experience at and I’m figuring it out as I go.

“The biggest surprise is how hard it is to find the right gap and the extremes people will go to find it,” Hinchcliffe added. “This was just practice, so once we get into qualifying, which is a 15-minute session, I’ll be trying to see who’s willing to get offline and position themselves in the right way at the right time. I don’t know how many of those games I’m going to get into. I think I might just put my head down and go and see how it shakes out. There’s definitely an art to this racing.”

Round 7 race is slated to begin at 12:20pm ET on Friday. Round 8 will go green at 10:05am ET on Saturday. Both races will be streamed live on RACER.com and IMSA.com/tvlive.