Defending Champion and Promising Rookie Chasing Championship Leader with $250,000 on the Line
BRASELTON, Ga. – The 2022 Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires championship will come down to the final checkered flag of the season this week at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. Three contenders are in the hunt for the $250,000 championship prize, including the defending champion and a rookie.
A slim 140 points cover the top three drivers in the championship: Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering), Gresham Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance) and Connor Zilisch (No. 72 Hixon Motor Sports). With up to 380 points up for grabs in each of the two races, every position is important.
Wagner has been in this situation before; he is the reigning champion and earned that title in last year’s doubleheader finale at Michelin Raceway. This time, however, Wagner comes into the final event chasing rather than leading. He is 55 points behind Thomas.
“My approach doesn’t change much from last year,” said Wagner seeking to become the first MX-5 Cup repeat champion. “If there was a bigger difference in the points gap it may feel different, but it’s similar to last year. The points are close enough that you have to aim to win the race, and whoever can manage to do that will likely come out with the championship. I think the one variable this year is having Connor (Zilisch) in third, with how well he’s been driving the last couple of races. Ultimately, I think you just have to approach it the same as any other race, and how I did last year, and go out, race hard and aim for first.”
Last year, Wagner took the Race 1 win at Michelin Raceway over Thomas by only 0.015 seconds, sliding across the finish line nearly sideways. In Race 2, it was Thomas who took the win as Wagner played it safe with the championship in his grasp.
His strong showing last year has Thomas feeling confident coming into the final two races of the season.
“I feel really good,” Thomas said. “Road Atlanta is one of my favorite tracks and I feel confident in the equipment my team have prepared for me. I’m looking to pick up right where I left off here last year.”
Zilisch has more than proved that Mazda made the right decision choosing him for the MX-5 Cup Shootout Scholarship. The rookie has won three races this season and finds himself in contention for the championship alongside series veterans.
“Regarding the title fight, my game plan doesn’t change,” Zilisch said. “I show up to the track to win and that’s the attitude I’m taking into Road Atlanta. Whatever else happens, happens, and as long as I know I did the most I could have, I will be happy.
“My rookie season has exceeded expectations, in categories such as growth as a driver, and even just a person off the track. I’ve made lifelong friends and memories that I will cherish forever. This opportunity was once in a lifetime, and I’m grateful that I was able to experience Mazda MX-5 Cup firsthand.”
With extreme competition comes extreme rewards; the 2022 MX-5 Cup Champion will walk away with $250,000 from Mazda. Payouts continue through 10th in the point standings, plus an $80,000 prize for the rookie of the year.
You can bet a lot of competitors will use that money to come back to MX-5 Cup in 2023, especially with Mazda increasing its prizes to $1 million courtesy of per-race payouts. In each race next season, the top 10 finishers will win prize money: $6,000 for a win, $5,000 for runner-up, $4,000 for third, $3,000 for fourth, $2,000 for fifth and $1,000 for sixth through 10th. Additionally, if at least two female drivers start the race, the top finishing female driver will win $2,000.