For two days, nine exceptional young grassroots Mazda racers competed against each other for a top scholarship valued at $110,000 to compete in the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires. When the sun set on day two, it was Aaron Jeansonne who stood above the rest and collected the big prize. Chris Nunes and Savanna Little each took home scholarships valued at $75,000 to take part in next year’s Mazda MX-5 Cup.
Day one of the Shootout was due to start with a physical fitness evaluation, but just as COVID-19 has changed the way we do everyday tasks, it changed the format of this year’s shootout. Instead, finalists were given several written assessments questioning them on brand representation, racing budgets, event preparation and track knowledge. Day one was capped off with a series of one-on-one interviews with the judges.
“We’ve gotten to know the candidates over the years and particularly over the last 12 months,” Manager of Mazda Motorsports Business Development David Cook said. “We knew it was going to be difficult to pick a winner, and that didn’t change after day one.”
Day two was all about track skills. Each finalist had four 18-minute lapping sessions around the 2.54-mile Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. Each driver received their own set of BFGoodrich tires they needed to manage through the full day of running. Between sessions, data was collected, and tires were swapped out by series partner Flis Performance, who prepared the three identical Mazda MX-5 Cup cars for the contest.
It wasn’t just about who could turn the fastest lap of the day, the judges wanted to see consistency and the willingness to learn and apply feedback.
“On track, some performed better than others today, but it’s just one day, so we’re considering all the data points we’ve collected,” explained Cook. “We’ve gotten to know these racers so well over the last year, really it could have gone so many different ways.”
When the track went quiet it was time to pick a winner. This year, the judges chose Aaron Jeansonne of Sulphur, Louisiana.
“Aaron was the runner-up last year,” Cook said. “He ran a couple Spec MX-5 events this year and a Spec Miata event. That gave us three more data points to reinforce that he’s not only fast, but he has great race craft and awareness. That extra confidence that we gained this year, took away that unknown from last year.”
Jeansonne is a former Team USA Scholarship winner and only weeks ago was named the Spec MX-5 Challenge Series Emerging Talent champion and Invitational champion.
“This is surreal,” Jeansonne said. “I had so much I had to do this year to improve. I had a pretty good showing in last year’s MX-5 Cup Shootout and I really tried to take everything to heart and the feedback and all the areas I needed to improve. I worked tirelessly to make those improvements.
“I want to thank Mazda Motorsports, BFGoodrich Tires, Pagid and Flis Performance for putting on this event. I want to thank Mazda for everything they do to support grassroots racers. They do a lot for us and I’m honored to be a part of the Mazda family.”
This was the 15th MX-5 Cup Shootout that Mazda has held and it’s never easy to pick a winner. In light of this, Mazda chose to add a scholarship valued at $75,000 for the runner-up in 2020. That prize was awarded to Chris Nunes of Alpine, California.
“We’re going to invest it all into an MX-5 Cup program for next season,” Nunes said. “This has been an amazing opportunity. We’re here with the top Mazda racers in the country and I’m honestly in shock right now. It’s a very good feeling.”
Also new to this year’s MX-5 Cup Shootout is a $75,000-valued scholarship for an outstanding female finalist. Savanna Little, of Austin, Texas, was named the winner.
“I’m so, so grateful for my mom first of all, but obviously to Mazda Motorsports, Flis Performance, BFGoodrich and everyone that made it possible for us to be here,” Little said. “This is such an incredible opportunity. There’s no other manufacturer that does so much to support aspiring grassroots racers like myself. To be a part of the Mazda family and to do it in this way is unbelievable.”
Watch these three up-and-coming drivers and more compete in the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires. The season gets underway in January, racing alongside IMSA at Daytona International Speedway, January 28-31.