Zilisch Breaks Through for First Mazda MX-5 Cup Win of the Year
 June 8, 2024| 
  • Series News

LEXINGTON, Ohio (June 8, 2024) – Despite starting the year off with breakthrough victories in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Sebring 12 Hour there was still one win that eluded Connor Zilisch (No. 72 BSI Racing)-until today. The racing phenom fought hard to get his first Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup win of the year at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Zilisch continues the streak of non-repeat race winners and becomes the seventh different driver to win in the Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup this season. Defending series champion Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering) finished second ahead of polesitter Gresham Wagner (No. 5 McCumbee McAleer Racing).


After breaking his own qualifying lap record at Mid-Ohio Saturday morning, Wagner looked like the man to beat up front. He led a breakaway pack that included Zilisch, Thomas and Nate Cicero (No. 83 McCumbee McAleer Racing).


The intense racing happening from fifth through tenth behind them looked like it could have been a fight for a championship. Penalties handed out in qualifying put some of the regular front runners farther back than usual and with the passing opportunities at Mid-Ohio, it was a whirlwind of position changes through 45 minutes of all green-flag racing. Point leader Aaron Jeansonne (No. 24 JTR Motorsports Engineering), top rookie Nathan Nicholson (No. 56 JTR Motorsports Engineering) and podium regular Jeremy Fletcher (No. 22 McCumbee McAleer Racing) had to make some daring moves to pick their way through the field.


It wasn’t long before Wagner, Zilisch, Thomas and Cicero were gone and in a race of their own. Zilisch and Thomas took turns trying to pressure Wagner into a mistake, but it wasn’t happening. With 15 minutes to go, Zilisch put down the hammer and decided he needed to take over the lead then and there if he wanted to win the race.


“Honestly, I was surprised at how fast we pulled away and how far we pulled away,” Zilisch said. “I kind of lost sight of them from behind, so that did change the way I raced the race and honestly, it worked out in my favor.


“I was waiting on a mistake. I wanted to get to the lead as soon as I could. But I honestly just couldn't get there. You know, I struggled on to the straightaways and I never could really get a run to get by them. It was a little bit frustrating there at the middle of the race. I just stayed patient and kind of waited for Jared [Thomas] and Gresham [Wagner] to make mistakes and found my way to the lead.”


Zilisch was sliding around quite a bit and gave Wagner an opportunity to get him back, but Zilisch would not be denied.


“Once I got the lead I knew I couldn't lose it,” Zilisch said. “So thats kind of what kind of led me to defend on the last five or six laps just to hold on to the track position.”


Zilisch adds this MX-5 Cup win to his list of banner achievements so far this season that also include an ARCA victory at Dover and a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series pole at Circuit of the Americas.


“This feels good,” Zilisch said. “This is one of the only series that I've yet to win in this year. I really wanted to win coming into this weekend and it feels good to do it with my BSI Racing team. They work really hard. We struggled yesterday in practice. I was outside the top 10. We worked hard overnight and got it to a place where I felt like we could contend. I’m so happy with the entire team's effort and glad that I could get our team the second win of the year and my first one of the year.”


Thomas may have been disappointed with a sixth-place grid spot, but he was flying to the front as soon as the green dropped.


He is credited with leading a race lap early in the race, but without a teammate to work with, it was tricky finding ways to keep Wagner and Zilisch behind him.


“The car was super quick,” Thomas said. “I turned the fastest lap of the race. But, you know, these races always come down to the last lap and the positioning and these two guys (Zilisch and Wagner) are very talented racecar drivers. It was just a good old-fashioned Mid-Ohio race.


“Zilisch had a run there and wanted to push by so I pushed him past and, you know, I tried to get to where I wanted to be for the last couple laps. I mean, we all have to work together a little bit, but everybody has their own agenda at the end of the day.”


On the second to last lap Wagner slid wide in the Carousel, enabling Thomas to grab the second step on the podium.


Wagner may have had the car to beat, but you need a lot more than that to win in MX-5 Cup.


“I think anybody that's got any experience could tell I was the fastest car in that race,” Wagner said. “Of course, it's a bit frustrating when you know the car is that good and that quick, but you also kind of put a target on your back. I didn't expect to really have much help at the end, and I didn't, but I’m definitely not upset with how it turned out. It was a good race all in all.”


Cicero faded back from the top three during the race but was able to finish fourth on his own.


Jeansonne was the best of the feisty pack fighting for fifth and scored important points.


Julian DaCosta (No. 78 JTR Motorsports Engineering) was the highest finishing rookie in seventh. Sally Mott (No. 15 Spark Performance) was the highest finishing female driver.


Mazda MX-5 Cup Race 2 at Mid-Ohio takes place Sunday, June 9, at 10:25am ET with live streaming available on the RACER YouTube channel and at IMSA.tv.

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