Sweet Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup Redemption for Jeansonne in Monterey

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Sweet Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup Redemption for Jeansonne in Monterey

IMSA Laguna Seca 2024

MONTEREY, Calif. (May 12, 2024) – A mistake in the final corner of Saturday’s Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by Michelin race cost Aaron Jeansonne (No. 24 JTR Motorsports Engineering) a hometown victory. He redeemed himself in Sunday’s race with a decisive win. Nathan Nicholson (No. 56 JTR Motorsports Engineering) came home second, with Jeremy Fletcher (No. 22 McCumbee McAleer Racing) finishing third.

Starting from pole position, Jeansonne led all but one lap of the race, but each and every one of those laps was a fight to stay up front. For the first half of the race Jeansonne’s teammate, and Saturday race winner, Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering) was glued to his bumper.

Any effort to work together and pull away from the field was spoiled by Tyler Gonzalez (No. 57 Saito Motorsports Group), who had a great start and was breathing down the JTR duo’s necks.

The top eight cars separated themselves from the rest of the field and were fighting for every inch of race track. Eventually, Thomas was sucked into the battle behind him and nearly fell out of the top 10. The tight battles gave Jeansonne some moments of reprieve, but he wasn’t able to pull away from the pack until the penultimate lap.

“I didn’t look in my mirror one time,” Jeansonne said of the final two laps. “My spotter told me they were 15 car-lengths behind me coming to the white flag. I was like ‘okay, I got it. Fifteen car-lengths. I don’t need anything else.’” I just drove and knew I had the gap, a little bit of a margin, and came away with it.”

WeatherTech Raceway is Jeansonne’s home track and site of his first-ever Mazda MX-5 Cup win last year.

“There’s a lot of people here helping me and supporting me and that made yesterday really tough,” Jeansonne said of Saturday’s race. “I really wanted it yesterday and came so close. I am so happy to get it done today and in exciting fashion like that.”

With the win, bonus points for two pole positions and leading the most laps in both races, Jeansonne provisionally takes over the championship points and inches closer to the $250,000 championship prize.

A runner-up finish felt like a victory for Nicholson. His race began with a poor start and while fighting not to fall too far behind, he took a ride through the gravel in Turn Five and nearly spun. An early full-course yellow helped him stay in the top 10 and gave him a chance to refocus for the restart.

Nicholson clawed his way back through the field and into second by the race’s halfway mark, but an attempt to take the lead slowed his momentum enough to fall back to fourth with two laps to go.

Determined to earn his second-straight podium finish, Nicholson dug deep.

“I got pushed off and the only thing I was worried about was just picking off one car by one car by one car,” Nicholson said. “It’s the exact same mindset as Sebring when I went 30th to 10th. You know, it’s the bad days, when stuff goes wrong, that matter and win championships.”

Defending for his life, and sometimes defying physics, Nicholson held onto second.

“The team gave me a car that would stick anywhere, so I can’t thank them enough for that,” he said.

Two podium results at Laguna Seca pushes Nicholson into the lead of the Rookie of the Year standings, which culminates in a $80,000 check at the end of the season from Mazda.

Fletcher had the fastest lap of the race and clearly the speed to win but started seventh and found it extra tricky to pick up positions early on in the race.

“I definitely fell back in the beginning,” Fletcher said. “I knew I had the car and suddenly felt really good and after the caution. I kind of just tried to pick them off one by one and go from there. There was a lot of contact, not with me, just around me and I think that helped us a lot to kind of move through. MMR had the car absolutely flying, so I can’t thank them enough and my grandparents and The Holster Store for bringing me out here and making this possible.”

It is the fourth podium of the year for Fletcher who is in his sophomore season.

Thomas recovered from his mid-race struggles to finish fourth and Grant West (No. 50 Spark Performance) earned his best MX-5 Cup finish ever, crossing the line in fifth.

The top finishing female in the race, Sally Mott (No. 15 Spark Performance), had a harrowing race that started with a spin that sent her to the back of the field. The Mazda Women in Motorsports Scholarship winner didn’t let it phase her and methodically picked her way back through the field to 11th.

“The first race I had a (first lap) incident that was similar, so I really, really, really wanted this,” Mott said. “I drove my heart out and I feel like it paid off and even though my tow was out and I was struggling in some areas, I feel like l did my best and I stayed focused and I put on a show when it mattered.”

As the top finishing female, Mott took home a check for $2,000 from Mazda.

Both races from Laguna Seca are available to watch on the RACER and IMSA YouTube channels.

Next up for MX-5 Cup is Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Rounds Seven and Eight, June 7 – 9.