Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to work with many young, talented drivers, helping them progress and develop into professional racecar drivers. The Idemitsu MX-5 Cup Series is no different in that there is a plethora of young talent succeeding in the field.
There are many challenges to young racers who are new to the sport. Sometimes it can feel like they’re drinking from a firehose, trying to learn race craft, new tracks, plus series rules and regulations, while also typically balancing a school schedule. Lately, this has been much easier since online curriculums continue to become more common, but juggling both aspects of their lives can still be a tall task for these young drivers. It takes a lot of discipline!
On the other hand, young drivers have advantages, too. They tend to be fast learners, they don’t have to unlearn bad habits (especially since some of them don’t even have a driver’s license yet!), and so forth.
Several newcomers to the MX-5 Cup Series this year have really caught the attention of fans and competitors alike. The Mazda Shootout scholarship money has enabled a few drivers to make their debut in the series. In 2020, Aaron Jeansonne won the Overall Shootout scholarship and Chris Nunes won the runner-up scholarship. Both Chris and Aaron had impressive debuts at Daytona. Chris finished in the top five, and Aaron brought home a top-ten finish.
Chris qualified sixth in his first series qualifying ever, then went on to finish fourth in race one. This is pretty remarkable, especially considering that Chris is still a teenager!
What’s even more remarkable is that Chris wasn’t even the highest-finishing rookie! Sam Paley took that honor, finishing second in race one in an absolutely crazy photo finish. He then finished fifth in race two, which means he’s now sitting third in the championship.
And these rookies aren’t even the youngest drivers in the series. The Mazda MX-5 Cup Series field includes two 14-year-olds. One of them, Luca Mars, finished inside the top ten in his series debut at Daytona.
It’s incredible how well the younger drivers are able to do against the veteran drivers in the series. It will certainly be interesting to see how well these rookies progress as the series continues, with the historic 12 Hours of Sebring event up next March 17-19.
Tom Long is an accomplished sports car driver with a number of top honors to his name. His storied career with Mazda Motorsports includes his current role in the Mazda MX-5 Cup Series as a test driver, coach and race official. You can keep up with Tom on his blog at TomLongRacing.com or on Facebook.