Large field of promising rookies, returning champions, and experienced veterans likely to once again put on a show on the high banks
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 22, 2024) – It’s the start of a new era for Mazda’s signature spec racing series; the Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by Michelin era. The series welcomes new partners, a new name and a new logo to kick off the 2024 season, but the entry list is filled with familiar faces.
The 2023 championship protagonists have returned, including teammates Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering) and Aaron Jeansonne (No. 24 JTR Motorsports Engineering). Despite scoring his first two Mazda MX-5 Cup race wins, Jeansonne came up 360 points short of the title last year. Instead it was Thomas who became the first-ever repeat series champion.
Thomas isn’t just a driver, he’s a team owner. He’ll have to find time to balance his on-track duties while ensuring his JTR customers are well taken care of.
“It’s not easy, but after doing it for a couple years you learn to have the right mindset,” Thomas said. “You also learn to surround yourself with the right people to take responsibility for things and allow you to concentrate on driving. I’m always one to make sure our customer stuff is taken care of ahead of mine. That goes for the shop and the race track. The priority is always the customer.”
Another former champion, Gresham Wagner (No. 5 McCumbee McAleer Racing), is back for a shot at becoming the series’ second-ever repeat champion. With this goal in mind, Wagner has switched from Spark Performance to McCumbee McAleer Racing. There he’ll join last year’s Rookie of the Year, Nate Cicero (No. 83 McCumbee McAleer Racing), Jeremy Fletcher (No. 22 McCumbee McAleer Racing) and John Jodoin (No. 39 McCumbee McAleer Racing), who is overdue for his first MX-5 Cup podium.
The latest winner of the Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout, Westin Workman (No. 13 BSI Racing) has picked BSI Racing for his rookie season. The pressure is on for Workman to prove he was the right choice for the $110,000 scholarship, but perhaps the change to Michelin tires this year will be an advantage for him and level the playing field across all drivers.
“Starting my MX-5 Cup career at such an iconic place like Daytona is a testament to Mazda Motorsports professionalism and providing us drivers and teams bucket list tracks and events to attend with IMSA,” Workman said. “I have raced at Daytona before but never experienced an event like the Rolex 24 as it is one of the biggest races of the year in the US. The fans and atmosphere give me something to look forward to besides the very tight racing that the MX-5 Cup cars provide. I am ready to take on the challenge with BSI Racing and I’m very fortunate for the continued support and opportunities from Mazda Motorsports throughout my sports car racing journey.”
BSI is not a new team to the paddock, rather it is the bones of Hixon Motor Sports, minus the Hixon name. That’s why it’s no surprise that BSI has eight entries for the season opener, including MX-5 Cup power hitters Connor Zilisch (No. 72 BSI Racing) and Selin Rollan (No. 87 Rollan Racing/BSI Racing).
There are some new teams on the grid, including Rick Ware Racing, which has historically competed in NASCAR, IndyCar, and the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. They’re bringing a pair of talented names with Cody Ware (No. 51 Rick Ware Racing) and Preston Pardus (No. 52 Rick Ware Racing) who both have significant NASCAR experience. Pardus took part in the first MX-5 Cup race at Daytona in 2021 and nearly won, which was no surprise considering his multiple Spec Miata SCAA National Championships.
A two-time winner at Daytona, Tyler Gonzalez (No. 57 Saito Motorsports Group), returns and will be the odds-on favorite for a third win this week.
It’s important to note that since MX-5 Cup started racing at Daytona in 2021, a driver who wins there has gone on to win the championship (Gresham Wagner 2021, Jared Thomas 2022 and 2023).
Winner of the Mazda Women in Motorsport Initiative scholarship, Sally Mott (No. 15 Spark Performance), has chosen to make her full season debut with Spark Performance this year. Mott’s career has been on a rocket ship, going from club racing Spec Miatas to racing in the MX-5 Cup 2023 finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in the span of a year.
Last year’s Mazda Women in Motorsport Initiative scholarship winner Heather Hadley (No. 54 BSI Racing) is back for her sophomore season but has shifted teams from Spark Performance to BSI Racing.
Like last year, Mazda is paying out prize money to the top 10 finishers in each race, plus $2,000 for the highest finishing female. Those checks are steps on a path to the grand prize: $250,000 for the 2024 season champion and $80,000 for the rookie of the year.
The 2024 Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup season begins at Daytona International Speedway as part of the Rolex 24 at Daytona event. Race One takes place at 4:15pm ET, Thursday, January 25, while Race Two is slated for 10:15am ET on Friday, January 26. Both races will be streamed live on RACER.com and IMSA.com/tvlive.