Gresham Wagner Wins Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Race One at Road America

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Gresham Wagner Wins Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Race One at Road America

Rookie leaders yield to experienced runners on new pavement

Elkhart Lake, Wisc. (5 August, 2023) –  Two young rookies-Jonathan Neudorf (No. 55 Hixon Motor Sports) and Nate Cicero(No. 83 McCumbee McAleer Racing) led the large field of Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich® Tires runners to the green flag at Road America, but when the dust settled and the checkered flag flew, it was a trio of experienced runners who scored the podium bounty in Saturday’s Race One.

Using a recipe that included speed, some patience, wily drafting, doses of aggression, and a timely final caution, 2021 Mazda MX-5 Cup Champion Gresham Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance) converted third on the grid into a race victory as he was followed across the line by 2022 Mazda MX-5 Cup Champion Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering). Robert Noaker (No. 13 Robert Noaker Racing) continued to make progress in his series return, moving from fifth at the start to take third.

Neudorf led the field to the green flag, but was quickly overtaken for the lead as Cicero took the point after the first tour of the recently-repaved 4-mile circuit set in rural Wisconsin. Neudorf’s day turned for the worse though after side by side contact with Jeremy Fletcher (No. 22 Copeland Motorsports) saw him head to the pits after losing pressure in one of his BFGoodrich tires.

A full-course caution on lap four to recover Thomas Annunziata (No. 10 Hixon Motor Sports) from the Turn One gravel slowed the field behind Gresham, with Cicero giving chase on the lap six restart.

But two laps later, an incident for Andrew Wilson (No. 49 McCumbee McAleer Racing) saw the field return to single file ahead of a lap 12 restart. Several drafting trains traded positions from corner to corner, with Maximilian Opalski (No. 2 Copeland Motorsports) setting the fastest lap of the race as he dueled with a pack that included Cicero, championship leader Aaron Jeansonne (No. 24 JTR Motorsports Engineering), and John Jodoin (No. 39 McCumbee McAleer Racing).

The yellow flew one final time after Hanna Zellers (No. 74 Hixon Motor Sports) and Joey Rainey (No. 30 Robert Noaker Racing) tangled, giving Wagner the rare chance to breathe easy on the final lap of a Mazda MX-5 Cup race.

“Experience I think plays a role and knowing how these races usually pan out,” said the former series champion. “I mean, this place is unique, there’s kind of a rhythm to how the races go. I also think Nate [Cicero] was right there, he didn’t fall off. He just made one mistake, and that’s all it could take at a place like this, where the draft can eat you up. Jared [Thomas] was really quick too, he was willing to work with me for a large part of that race. Fortunately for me, the yellow came out, because I think it would have gotten a bit dicey there at the end, but I’m sure we’ll have a tougher race this afternoon- everyone learns something so they’ll come back stronger.”

Thomas, who utilized his significant prize package from Mazda for his 2022 championship to grow the JTR Motorsports program, was happy to put his experience to use on the way to second.

“We had so many cautions today and that didn’t really let the race play out,” said Thomas. “But Nate [Cicero] was fast definitely and could have been on the podium if that last caution didn’t come out.  But this is one of those places where thinking pretty far ahead can get you some positions. So, I’d say the experience definitely helps— but we had a good good car today and I’m looking forward to the second race later. I think it was a different race than we are used to at Road America, but it was definitely exciting.”

Noaker, who landed himself in the Guinness Book of World Records with his MX-5 Cup race victory at all of 14 years old in 2018, has seen his fortunes continue to improve in his 2023 return to the series.

“This track is definitely one you have to have the knowledge of how the draft works, and who you’re around that’ll help you—and who won’t,” said Noaker.  “But with the repave here you kind of have one real good groove around the track, and then everywhere off of that groove is not very good right now. In years past, you could go two wide through basically any turn you want, but now you can’t really do that. Right now, everyone’s huddled up on the inside of the track because you can’t do anything otherwise. I was hoping it would work out, but it just didn’t. It was fun out there though. I just want to thank Velocity Mazda, Slipstream Performance, and Noaker Racing. We’ve been getting better and better throughout the year and it feels like we are getting closer to a win again”

The rookie runners—there are 13 of them in the Road America field—will look to turn the tide on the veterans when the series stages Race Two later on Saturday. The race will be streamed live on at 3:45pm ET.