Thomas Wins Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup Race in Monterey After One Lap Dash to Finish
 May 11, 2024| 
  • Series News
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MONTEREY, Calif. (May 11, 2024) – Round Five of the Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by Michelin featured a spectacular one-lap dash to the finish line at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Saturday. Reigning series champion Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering) held off two of his teammates to take his first victory of the year by 0.079-second.

 

The top three spots on the Round Five grid were locked out by JTR Motorsports Engineering cars, with Aaron Jeansonne (No. 24 JTR Motorsports Engineering) starting from pole. Jeansonne, Thomas and Nathan Nicholson (No. 56 JTR Motorsports Engineering) worked together for the first 30 minutes of the 45-minute race, but for the final 15 minutes, it was every man for himself.

 

Just as Thomas began to take looks at Jeansonne, a full-course yellow was issued to remove Alex Bachoura (No. 33 Spark Performance) from the Turn Three gravel. The safety crew’s response was quick enough that the race was able to resume and the white flag was displayed along with the green.

 

“My spotter said they were dragging the car out pretty quick,” Thomas said.  “I'm like, ‘this could be a green white checkered,’ which is always super exciting. I wish we would have more of it because it’s a great show. I thought ‘just give me one more shot at it.’ Sure enough, Aaron [Jeansonne] made a bobble in five, I got a run up the inside in six and cleared him.”

 

Jeansonne, who scored his first-ever Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup win at Laguna Seca last year, wasn’t about to give up the spot that easy, especially at his home track. He tried to out-brake Thomas going into the final turn, but overshot it, and ran wide into the gravel. This enabled Nicholson to sneak by into second and nearly challenge Thomas for the win.

 

“I didn't know how big of a run he [Nicholson] was going to get there,” Thomas said.  “Thankfully, it wasn't enough, but he was close. He got to my bumper. So, it was a wild, wild MX-5 Cup race. That's exactly how everybody likes to see it. I’m excited to go out there for tomorrow's race.”

 

The win is a big boost for Thomas’ 2024 season as he tries to become a three-time MX-5 Cup Champion and collect another $250,000 champion’s check from Mazda.

Nicholson couldn’t be too upset about finishing second as it marked his debut appearance on the Mazda MX-5 Cup podium.

 

“This is awesome,” Nicholson said. “The team could not have put us in better cars. We [JTR Motorsports Engineering team] were the ones to beat out there. The situation was a little tough with the green, white, checkered and a one lap shootout. Aaron [Jeansonne] went for the win and made a mistake.”

 

Nicholson was the runner-up in last year’s Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout and is eyeing the 2024 Rookie of the Year title and the $80,000 that comes with it.

 

“The big thing was the points for me, so I was actually content with third,” Nicholson said. “If something happened, I was going to capitalize on it, and I did. I wasn't going to try to force anything. I'm here for the long ride and that's what I'm really focusing on.”

 

A driver who was thrilled to see the late yellow come out, and even more thrilled to see a one-lap dash to the finish was Tyler Gonzalez (No. 57 Saito Motorsports Group). The Sebring race winner overheated his engine in practice and was concerned about any lingering damage it might have. The late yellow helped him catch the leaders and cross the line in third.

 

After the race, however, officials issued Gonzalez a 10-second penalty for contact with Nate Cicero (No. 83 McCumbee McAleer Racing) on the final lap. This dropped him to 16th on the results and moved Cicero to third.  

 

Bryce Cornet (No. 99 Spark Performance) moved up to fourth in a triumphant return to the series after a year away, matching his career-best finish.

 

Even with his mistake in the final corner, Jeansonne was able to secure a fifth-place finish.

 

The second Mazda MX-5 Cup race of the weekend at Laguna Seca takes place Sunday, May 12 at 11:35am ET. The race will be livestreamed on RACER.com and IMSA.tv.

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