Aaron Jeansonne looks back on the opening four races of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup at Daytona and Sebring. He sits fourth in the points table and is the highest-placed rookie.
The Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires series is well underway. We began at the legendary Daytona International Speedway, where we had absolutely no previous testing data so we knew would be a great challenge. We made a few mistakes and didn’t execute to the best of our ability, which resulted in P8 and P12 finishes.
However, considering those are not poor results, especially in a field of 27 cars, all of us had a ton of confidence in our pace moving forward. One of my primary reasons for choosing the Provision Motorsports team was the excellent communication and chemistry we have, so I always knew we would quickly improve. We took things one step at a time, meaning the next goal would be to compete for top-fives.
I was pleasantly surprised when Sebring (supporting the IMSA 12-hour event) was added to our calendar. We’ve already had a test there and I was familiar with the course from past events. We decided to test there again on a weekend in which most of the series competitors showed up. I was able to run several laps pacing with my teammate Drake Kemper and series points leader Gresham Wagner, while working with the team to further develop our setup. We left the test very pleased with our cars and confident for the race meeting. Also, we welcomed a new driver to our team moving forward, fellow rookie Joey Atanasio.
Our second race weekend actually did not have the smoothest start – again – as we struggled with some braking issues through practice. Fortunately, we were able to get it all fixed for qualifying. In this series, the starting lineups are determined by one’s fastest qualifying lap (for Race 1) and second fastest lap (for Race 2). We didn’t execute properly in qualifying, so I had to start Race 1 back in 11th. However, our consistent pace put me in fifth for the second race. We knew we could move forward quickly in Race 1 despite our starting position.
After just a few laps, I found myself in sixth place with a small pack of cars. The top three had pulled a decent gap, so we needed to work together to get back to the front. We were making progress, but ultimately too much battling kept us split from the front group. After a late-race restart, a competitor spun right in front of me and I had to hesitate to avoid an impact, thus losing another chance at mixing it up in the front.
A sixth-place finish right behind Drake was a great step forward for us as a team, though.
I wanted more than anything to give Provision Motorsports its first podium in Race 2, and starting fifth with a great car seemed like the perfect opportunity. After jumping up to third just after the start, I planned to stay very patient in the front group as five of us broke away from the field. However, I had to contest third for a few consecutive laps, and the two leaders were able to create a gap. After taking the third spot back, we were able to lay down a few very fast laps and had the pace to catch back up to the leaders. Just then, the car behind me made a mistake that caused us to have a pretty heavy collision. I came out with some damage, and unfortunately it ended his race. I was able to nurse my car to a fourth-place finish though. Looking back on it, I certainly can’t complain with the results given the circumstances!
Fourth and sixth-place finishes definitely don’t justify the hours of hard work the team has put in, and the improvements and pace we have shown. But it was enough to capture the Rookie Championship points lead and improve massively from Daytona. We are also all the way up to the fourth spot in the overall points standings out of a total of 32 season entries!
It felt awesome to run up front with a very talented group of drivers in such a competitive series. The IMSA broadcasts were put together very well, and, as I’ve previously mentioned, Mazda is putting up a total of $568,500 of prizes to the series in 2021. I believe this is the best possible place to be in my racing career at this point, and the team and I are working hard to keep the momentum going for the next championship rounds at St. Petersburg (with the NTT IndyCar Series) April 23-24. This team has done everything possible to provide me an opportunity for success, paying attention to every detail and supporting each other through each step of the process. I know with this strong group I have around me, success will continue to come as long as we keep our heads down and stay patient.
Thank you to Mazda Motorsports and series partners Idemitsu, BFG, Pagid, Flis Performance, Fast Cooling, VP Racing Fuels, and my team Provision Motorsports for the opportunity.