Teammates Face Off for MX-5 Cup Championship in Road Atlanta Finale
 October 9, 2023| 
  • Series News
Copy of Hixon DaCosta

BRASELTON, Ga. (Oct. 9, 2023) – In typical Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires fashion, the championship has come down to the final two races of the season at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.  Two racers- Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering and Aaron Jeansonne (No. 24 JTR Motorsports Engineering) will look to emerge from the finale event with some new hardware and the $250,000 that goes to the series champion.

 

Mazda MX-5 Cup has never had a repeat champion, but that could end this week. Reigning champion Thomas comes into the finale leading the series standings by 290 points. That is a much more comfortable gap than last year, when his 55-point lead was eventually cut to a 10-point advantage over Connor Zilisch (No. 72 Hixon Motor Sports) for the title.

 

Consistency has been a key element of Thomas’ campaign to repeat as champion. He has appeared on the podium in eight of 12 races so far this season.

 

“MX-5 is a very competitive series and when you have 10 drivers in the field that can win any given race, it makes it difficult to consistently finish in the top five,” Thomas said. “I would say I feel more comfortable and more confident after last year in how to handle the pressures and anxiety of a championship battle.”

 

Making things even more interesting, Thomas’ closest challenger is his own teammate: Jeansonne. This has truly been Jeansonne’s breakout year in MX-5 Cup. He took his first two career-wins and has become a mainstay at the front of the field.

 

“This is my first time competing against a teammate for a championship and it has been a great experience,” Thomas said. “My relationship with Aaron [Jeansonne] has been amazing and it has continually gotten stronger since Daytona this year. We have been able to learn so much from each other throughout the year to make each other better and it is very exciting to see all the hard work that we put in be able to set us both up for the opportunity to decide the championship between us!”

 

“From the first drop of the green flag this year, we have worked together to get ourselves in this position and the whole team is thrilled to show up to the finale 1-2,” Jeansonne agreed “Only one of us can win the championship at the end of the day, but that’s what makes it exciting.” 

 

Will the teammates play nice when it comes down to a championship and $250,000 prize?

 

Out to spoil JTR’s party is Selin Rollan (No. 87 Hixon Motor Sports). He has been in the series longer than Thomas or Jeansonne and finished third in the championship in his rookie year (2018) but has since struggled to seal the deal on a MX-5 Cup title despite his race-winning pace and race craft. Rollan is 310 points behind Thomas, which means in addition to podium finishes for himself, he’ll need Thomas and Jeansonne to have some bad luck at Road Atlanta.

 

Thomas, Jeansonne and Rollan are all former winners of the Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout, which earned them each a scholarship to participate in a full season of MX-5 Cup. Nominees for this year’s shootout were recently announced by Mazda.

 

Jeansonne won his scholarship at Road Atlanta in fact.

 

“I love Road Atlanta,” Jeansonne said. “It’s where I won the MX-5 Cup Shootout back in 2020 to get myself into this series in the first place, so the place means a lot to me. Knowing that JTR has always been strong there gives me an extra bit of confidence as well.” 

 

Just behind Rollan in the points is another former MX-5 Cup Champion, Gresham Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance). Wagner had his hopes of back-to-back championships crushed at last year’s finale, when he had a mechanical DNF in the Round 13 race. He would go on to finish third in the 2022 season.  

 

While Robert Noaker (No. 13 Robert Noaker Racing) and Nate Cicero (No. 83 McCumbee McAleer Racing) are mathematically still capable of winning the championship, it would require most of the drivers ahead of them to score zero points.

 

Cicero has his eyes on another prize; the Rookie of the Year title. He has a 260-point lead over fellow rookie Thomas Annunziata (No. 10 Hixon Motor Sports) and comes into the finale with huge momentum following his first race win and a podium finish at VIRginia International Raceway.

 

Both drivers were part of the most recent MX-5 Cup Shootout with Cicero taking home the big prize and Annunziata in the runner-up spot. Will it finish like that in the MX-5 Cup rookie standings as well? Whomever comes out on top will take home the $80,000 Rookie of the Year prize from Mazda.

 

Of course, it wouldn’t be MX-5 Cup without some wildcards. First there’s multiple MX-5 Cup race winner Tyler Gonzalez (No. 35 Saito Motorsports Group) who returns to the series for the first time since St. Petersburg in March. Next we have Zilisch, the 2023 MX-5 Cup Rookie of the Year who wasn’t able to do a full season but has earned two wins in his abbreviated participation.

 

Finally, there’s Ben Keating (No. 19 Saito Motorsports Group), a decorated sports car veteran who won his class at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and has recorded multiple wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring. How will Keating, who’s used to much bigger and more powerful cars, adapt to momentum-based, draft-heavy MX-5 Cup?

 

History has shown that all bets are off when it comes to a Mazda MX-5 Cup finale. The only sure thing is that the 2023 champions will walk away with $250,000 and a Mazda CX-50.

 

Don’t miss Round 13 from Road Atlanta on Thursday, October 12 at 5:45pm ET or Round 14, Friday, October 12 at 10:30am ET, both streaming live on RACER.com.

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