The Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires will kick off its partnership with the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) at Daytona International Raceway this week with a season-opening double header race event. It is the first time the series has raced at the legendary circuit, with the races set to be staged as part of the Rolex 24 At Daytona event to kick off the 2021 season.
Twenty-seven cars are set to take part in Rounds One and Two of the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Cup, 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.
While the field includes a diverse group of competitors that features both rookies and experienced veterans, men and women, locals and first-timers, one thing will be the same for everyone: their car.
All of the racers will utilize MX-5 Cup race cars that started life as complete MX-5 road cars from the Mazda Hiroshima, Japan factory. To convert the street cars into race-ready machines, Daytona Beach, Florida, based engineering development partner Flis Performance welds a full roll cage and interior as well as adding more than 250 motorsports-specific parts. Other components of the car, including the Mazda SKYACTIV 2.0 liter engine, are sealed to ensure even competition and a cost-effective platform.
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. With Mazda having grown the rookie prize package to $80,000 in support, the young American is very 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, Sabré 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!”
Prior to Carter, Bryan Ortiz was at the top of the championship in 2019. After a year away, Ortiz has returned in his familiar No. 4 Copeland Motorsports entry.
A stacked grid of MX-5 Cup drivers are headed to Daytona and with the new IMSA partnership; all MX-5 Cup races will be streamed live on IMSA.com and TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. Thursday’s Round One race will air at 5pm ET and Friday’s Round Two race will air at 10:15am ET.