Championship in Play as Mazda MX-5 Cup Returns to Mid-Ohio
 June 3, 2024| 
  • Series News
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The Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by Michelin never ceases to surprise. Now at the halfway point of the season, the series has yet to have a repeat race winner and the championship point leader has changed with each round. Rounds Seven and Eight at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course could disrupt these trends and put the spotlight on a 2024 championship favorite. 

 

The Mid-Ohio weekend marks the return of Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup to the 2.258-mile natural terrain road course after not being part of the 2023 season schedule. Since then, the track has new pavement and the cars now race on Michelin tires. That could make it a level playing field for those who have not been to the circuit before.

 

JTR Motorsports Engineering is flying high after the last two rounds of the Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Coming into that weekend, JTR had yet to put a driver on the podium. Leaving Laguna Seca, however, the Indiana-based team locked out the top two positions in the points, thanks to wins from Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering) and Aaron Jeansonne (No. 24 JTR Motorsports Engineering).

 

Not only that, but the team’s rookie driver, Nathan Nicholson (No. 56 JTR Motorsports Engineering) captured his first two career podiums and moved up to fifth in the point standings, the highest of the rookie class.

 

Nipping at JTR’s heels are the drivers of McCumbee McAleer Racing. Jeremy Fletcher (No. 22 McCumbe McAleer Racing) and Nate Cicero (No. 83 McCumbee McAleer Racing), who each took a third-place finish in Monterey. Their teammate Gresham Wagner (No. 5 McCumbee McAleer Racing) has more wins at Mid-Ohio than any other driver entered, with two (2020 and 2022). That could be because it’s his favorite track.

 

“It’s a really old-school type track,” Wagner said. “To be fair, most of the tracks we go to have their own unique characteristics that make them tricky or require some finesse. It’s the strongest at Mid-Ohio, that element of finesse and precision that it requires. It has a little bit of everything: high-speed back straight, it’s got a tight little arena section, it’s flowing and hilly. It’s a dream track. For cars that race like we do, it’s the perfect little bullring with a few passing opportunities.”

 

Mid-Ohio will mark the return of Connor Zilisch (No. 72 BSI Racing) who missed Rounds Five and Six due to a scheduling conflict with his ARCA commitments. When the young phenom last raced MX-5 Cup at Mid-Ohio, he was a rookie and had a weekend to forget. He may not be in the championship hunt, but Zilisch is capable of mixing it up at the front of the field and is eager to get his first MX-5 Cup win of the season after missing out on a victory at Sebring by all of .001-seconds.

 

The largest cheering section of the weekend undoubtably goes to local driver Woody Heimann (No. 82 JTR Motorsports Engineering). The Ohio native is in his fourth season of MX-5 Cup. Living just an hour away, Heimann has been coming to Mid-Ohio since he was a kid and started his racing career here, albeit on two wheels instead of four.

 

“I’ve raced motorcycles, bicycles and now cars at Mid-Ohio,” Heimann said. “My first time there was 1996 as a spectator and my first time there on two wheels was 2001 at a track day. My first race was spring of 2003, on two-wheels. I’m celebrating 21 years of motorsports at Mid-Ohio!

 

“Mid-Ohio is a great road course,” he added. “I feel like half the paddock would say it’s their favorite track. It’s a drivers’ course. It’s not a drafting track. The draft doesn’t matter much and if you can wheel the car well, then you’ll do good. Having raced a season (2023) that didn’t go to Mid-Ohio, it makes me appreciate it that much more now that we’re going back.”

 

Heimann is correct, many drivers on the MX-5 Cup grid list Mid-Ohio as their favorite track.

 

Will we have our first repeat winner of the season, or will the championship leader double down on his points margin? Will hometown heroes rise to the top and make it to the podium or could a talented rookie get their first-ever win? These questions and more will be answered in MX-5 Cup Rounds Seven and Eight at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

 

Race 1 will go green at 3:25pm ET on Saturday, June 8. Race 2 will take place Sunday, June 9, at 10:25am ET. Both races will be streamed live on RACER.com and IMSA.tv.

 

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