The Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires will kick off its new IMSA partnership this week, Jan. 28-29, with its first-ever Daytona International Speedway event, a season-opening doubleheader.
Twenty-seven cars are set to take part in 2021 series Rounds 1 and 2, including three Mazda scholarship recipients, two former champions and four female drivers. All MX-5 Cup races will be streamed live on IMSA.com and TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.
The big winner at the 2020 Mazda Shootout was Aaron Jeansonne, who took home a scholarship valued at $110,000 to compete in MX-5 Cup. Jeansonne will take that scholarship to Provision Motorsports for his rookie season, and is clear about his target to start the year.
“I am going into the season opener very focused,” Jeansonne said. “I’ve spent as much time as possible training physically and mentally to be as sharp as I can be. I’ve also gotten to do some additional testing with the Provision Motorsports team at Sebring and we were able to get the car driving very well.
“I have only been to Daytona one time for a two-day test, so my experience there is quite limited,” said Jeansonne. “I know the draft will play a huge role this weekend and the competition is looking to be very stiff, so our primary objective is to have a clean, solid weekend to kick the season off.”
Two $75,000 Mazda scholarship winners will also make their MX-5 Cup debuts in the season opener: Chris Nunes joins last year’s Rookie of the Year, Jared Thomas, at JTR Engineering, and Savanna Little steps into a Hixon Motor Sports car.
Little is not the only female driver on the grid, she has three female teammates at Hixon Motor Sports: Hannah Gresham, Sabre Cook and Loni Unser. The Unser name is familiar to racing fans; Loni is the daughter of former IndyCar driver Johnny Unser. The Hixon Motorsports team itself is managed by another accomplished woman: Shea Holbrook.
All these and more are looking to take the crown from reigning champion Michael Carter, who will race without a teammate in the 2021 season.
“I am really looking forward to getting the season started down in Daytona this week,” said Carter, who won the 2018 Mazda shootout. “Returning to the series as the defending champion for my third MX-5 Cup season is allowing me to have a more relaxed approach. I get to just go out there and have fun and I think that’s a great position to be in.
“I have been racing at Daytona since 2014. I’ve run multiple Champcar and Spec Miata races there. We tested last month and I’m really looking forward to getting back on the track Wednesday. The racing will be absolutely insane and I can’t wait for the green flag to drop for race one on Thursday.”
Will entering the season as a single-car effort at Carter Racing Enterprises be a disadvantage as he seeks a second title? Carter thinks not as he looks to once again race his way to the $250,000 in support on offer from Mazda for the series champion.
“I don’t think being a single-car team changes anything for us,” he continued. “We have great equipment and information that we have gathered over the past 2 years and we continue to learn and get faster every time we show up to the racetrack. We have done a lot of testing and work on the car over the off season to put ourselves in the best position possible for Daytona. We are going to continue to do everything we can to get that $250,000 check at the end of the year!”
Bryan Ortiz, the 2019 champion, did not take part in 2020 but will return this season in his familiar No. 4 Copeland Motorsports entry.
Thursday’s MX-5 Cup Series Round 1 will air on IMSA.com at 5:00 p.m. ET and Friday’s Round 2 will air at 10:15 a.m. ET.