Round Six of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires was a fairytale for Aaron Jeansonne (No. 24 JTR Motorsports Engineering) as he converted his pole position into a dramatic breakthrough victory on Sunday. The former Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout Champion has been chasing a win since 2021 and finally captured it in front of a crowd of supporters after coming home just 0.170s clear of the field.
Jeansonne was joined on the podium by teammate and defending series champion Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Engineering) and Selin Rollan (No. 87 Hixon Motor Sports).
The start of Sunday’s Mazda MX-5 Cup race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca was delayed by more than an hour due to thick fog that impacted visibility for corner workers. When racing was finally underway, the cold and damp track surface resulted in several off-course excursions and the first full-course caution was issued before a full racing lap was completed. It was just enough time for Saturday’s race winner Connor Zilisch (No. 72 Hixon Motor Sports) to snag the lead from Jeansonne.
Zilisch held the top spot on the restart and a lead pack started to form that included Jeansonne, Thomas and Nate Cicero (No. 83 McCumbee McAleer Racing).
The second full-course caution came out following a multi-car incident in Turn 10, including one car making a dramatic track exit with a series of flips before coming to a stop on its roof. Thankfully, the driver, Zane Hodgen (No. 4 JTR Motorsports Engineering), was okay and got out of the car under his own power and was cleared by IMSA medical officials.
During the caution period, the race story took another dramatic turn as Zilisch pulled off track from the lead with a broken axle, handing the lead to then second-place Thomas before green-flag racing even resumed.
With the fog fully cleared, a perfect sightline emerged. Jeansonne put his head down and focused on a good restart. His path to victory was slowed for one final full-course caution for John Jodoin (No. 39 McCumbee McAleer) who became stuck off track in the gravel.
Just ten minutes remained when the race went green for a final sprint to the checkered flag. Jeansonne kept his cool as he built a small margin to the field on the restart, but Thomas, the 2022 MX-5 Cup Series champion and Daytona race winner put up an intense fight, chasing Jeansonne all the way to the finish. Jeansonne crossed the line just 0.170s ahead of his JTR Motorsports Engineering teammate as the squad claimed a 1-2 finish.
“I was tired of reading about how I haven’t won yet!” said Jeansonne. “So today was a good day to get it done at my home track. I have a lot of friends here and Turn2 Drivers Club guests here, my sponsor. I’m so thankful for the support. What an awesome race, man. Jared (Thomas) was putting the pressure on me. I was just trying to hit my marks and not make any mistakes. He was so fast. I just had to stay perfect to stay ahead of him. I can’t think of a better way to do it than with a one two with my teammate.
“It was a weird race with the delay and the fog, so we started later than what we were supposed to. We did a lot of waiting around for a while. We had one really long caution. I’m sending prayers to my buddy and teammate Zane (Hodgen). I really hope he’s okay.”
Even though Thomas and Jeansonne share a transporter as teammates, they didn’t go easy on each other as Thomas used every trick he had to find a way by at the end.
“I’m going to fight him to the death because that is what is going to making him a better race car driver,” said Thomas. “They (wins) don’t mean anything if they are easy. I’m super excited for him. I hope Zane (Hodgen) is okay. It’s never a good thing when you see one of your cars in a wreck like that. I hope he’s okay. Another podium for both JTR cars. Just a good weekend and a great weekend for me to get back in the car.”
With a fog-induced delay, a dramatic crash and a pair of hectic restarts, Rollan used his experience and poise to race his way back to the podium and he got the chance to celebrate with his mom post-race.
“The race was good and I’m happy to be on the podium, it’s my first podium (of the year),” said Rollan. “Happy Mother’s Day, thanks to my mom for being here and I look forward to getting another podium again soon. I got some damage on the first lap avoiding Gresham’s (Wagner) spinning car in (Turn) 6. So that hurt the handling of the car, but I was happy to go from seventh back to third. It sucks that Connor (Zilisch) couldn’t finish. I’m happy to get the podium and happy to keep a nice consistent season going and looking forward to the next one.”
Cicero, the current Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout winner, got his first top-five finish by crossing the line in fourth. Bryce Cornet (No. 65 Spark Performance) completed the top five.
The provisional point standings see Jeansonne move to the top of the field with 1,810 points, as the DNF for Zilisch contributed to him losing the championship lead (1,670 points). Rollan holds third with 1,630 points.
Each race winner receives $6,000 from Mazda, but whomever is atop the point standings at season’s end will receive $250,000.
Speaking of cash, Hanna Zellers (No. 74 Hixon Motor Sports) scored $2,000 for being the top finishing female of the race — a prize she won in Saturday’s race as well.
Mazda MX-5 Cup has some time off before rounds seven and eight at Watkins Glen International, June 22 – 24.