Mazda MX-5 Cup Star Power Comes to VIR

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Mazda MX-5 Cup Star Power Comes to VIR

ALTON, Va. (Aug. 21, 2023) – Mazda has a well-established history of helping talent connect with opportunity, and the field for Rounds 11 and 12 of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires demonstrates the results of that support, as six previous winners of the MX-5 Cup Shootout are set to do battle at the fabled VIRginia International Raceway this weekend.

That list includes Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering), who leads the point standings as he looks to make a successful defense of the 2022 Mazda MX-5 Cup championship that earned him $250,000.

A double podium weekend at Road America helped Thomas jump two spots to move to the top of the championship roster. Thomas is looking to make history, as there has never been a repeat MX-5 Cup Series champion.

Thomas skipped over his own teammate, Aaron Jeansonne (No. 24 JTR Motorsports Engineering), to take the point lead. Jeansonne had a disappointing weekend at Road America, finishing 15th in Race One and failing to finish Race Two because of damage from contact. There is plenty of time to make up for it, however, as Jeansonne is only 30 points behind Thomas in the points with four races yet to go in the 2023 season.

Another driver on an upward trajectory in the points is Robert Noaker (No. 13 Robert Noaker Racing). After a slow start to the season, Noaker has been finishing consistently in the top five as he has clawed his way up to fifth in the standings with four races to go.

Gresham Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance) made his return to the top spot on the podium at Road America. He followed up his Round Nine win with a runner-up performance in Round 10. Currently fifth in the point standings, Wagner is realistic about his shot at a second MX-5 Cup Championship with four races to go but racing at his home track this weekend gives him the confidence to admit anything is possible.

“I’m not too concerned with the championship at this point,” Wagner said. “I have had too much bad luck earlier in the season to concern myself with that, whatever happens, happens. Last year I had a really strong comeback at the end of the year, and then lost my chance at the championship with a mechanical at the finale. So, no matter what, I don’t think it’s worth stressing over or driving any different. I just showed up to Road America solely to win, and that’s what happened—not because I was worried about the points. Of course, I’d love to end the year as strong as possible, but I know I’ll be strong at VIR—it’s my home track and I’ve always had success there, so I am just going to keep trying to win races and let the points sort themselves out.”

Making a surprise appearance at VIR this weekend is the driver Wagner beat out for the 2021 MX-5 Cup Championship: Michael Carter (No. 19 Saito Motorsports Group). The Georgia-native’s last MX-5 Cup race was Road America in 2022.

Additionally, Connor Zilisch (No. 72 Hixon Motor Sports) makes his return to MX-5 Cup after a brief hiatus. The 2022 MX-5 Cup Rookie of the Year is thrilled to be back now that there are no further clashes in his racing schedule.

“Of course, I missed the MX-5 Cup,” Zilisch said. “The people, my team, and obviously the racing is my absolute favorite and I wish I could’ve been there at every race, but unfortunately there are only 52 weekends in a year! I can’t wait to be back!”

Zilisch was a winner at VIR last year en route to his Rookie of the Year crown.

“VIR is one of my favorite tracks in the country, lots of elevation, different kinds of corners, and it raced really well last year, so I’m excited to hopefully have some more good races this year,” Zilisch added. “Knowing how fast we were there last year; I’ve definitely got some confidence going into the weekend.

“When I’m not racing for a championship, the only approach there is, is to go out and win races! I know I’m totally capable and my team always believes in me. We have had a lot of momentum the last nine months in the series and I’m positive I’ll be able to get right back into the seat and compete at the front again!”

With Carter and Zilisch added to the entry list, Rounds 11 and 12 will contain the previous six MX-5 Cup Shootout winners (Nate Cicero, Zilisch, Jeansonne, Thomas, Carter, Selin Rollan).

Reigning Shootout winner Cicero (No. 83 McCumbee McAleer Racing) retook the lead in the MX-5 Cup Rookie Championship after two solid races at Road America, while his nearest rival, Thomas Annunziata (No. 10 Hixon Motor Sports) had a dismal weekend that included a DNF. Annunziata and Cicero have been trading the top rookie spot all season and keeping everyone guessing on who will take home the $80,000 Rookie of the Year prize from Mazda.

Of course, one doesn’t need a full season in MX-5 Cup to make some prize money, the likes of Carter and Zilisch can still bank some cash via race results. Drivers can take home as much as $16,000 in a MX-5 Cup doubleheader weekend. And that can add up quickly, especially for the championship-winner who will add a further $250,000 to the bank account at the season end thanks to Mazda’s expanded support for the championship.

Saturday’s Mazda MX-5 Cup race at VIR is slated for 1:30pm ET. Sunday’s race will go green at 10:25am ET. Both will be streamed live on