Winning an Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich championship is no easy feat. Winning two of them, much less two in a row, appeared impossible until Jared Thomas pulled off his second consecutive championship in 2023 (above). And while the first one was especially sweet, even though it wasn’t clear who won the title until well after the final race ended, this one was proof that what he and the JTR Motorsports Engineering team he launched in 2021, are doing is working.
“The first one was kind of that breakthrough moment, but the second one is also very gratifying,” Thomas explains. “It was just, really, a validation that it was more than luck the first year, to be able to come back and do it a second year. It just goes to show that the ton of effort that me and the rest of the team put in really pays off, and there’s a lot more than just luck that went into winning both championships. There’s a lot of hard work and skill put into it.”
Thomas came into the double-header finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta this year in a much more comfortable spot than in 2022. The first championship came down to 10 points between he and Connor Zilisch in a final race that saw Thomas have to claw his way back from contact to finish close enough to Zilisch. But the championship still wasn’t decided at the checker; it wasn’t until a post-race penalty was applied to a driver who’d finished between them that the championship was determined in Thomas’s favor.
This year, Thomas came into the final weekend with a more comfortable margin, and ended up 360 points ahead of Aaron Jeansonne – just a bit more than the points awarded for a race win.
“This year was definitely a little bit more relaxed, not as on-edge,” says Thomas. “We had a good season if you look at it as a whole. We had one bad weekend at the St. Pete opener; that was our mulligan for the year. We got it out of the system early and then just really worked on consistent podium finishes after that. Being consistently in the top five, I think that’s really what was able to win it for us.”
Thomas points to Road America, a track where he’d done well but never achieved victory, as a highlight of the season, thanks to a second-place finish in the first race and a win in the second.
Watkins Glen was notable for a different reason; in the second race, he got knocked back to eighth with only a few laps to go. He was able to claw back up to fourth place to preserve a top-five finish.
It was that kind of effort and perseverance that allowed Thomas to head into the finale with something of a buffer over title rival and fellow Mazda Motorsports scholarship winner Jeansonne.
Making the championship showdown something of an in-house affair, Jeansonne is Thomas’s teammate at JTR Motorsports Engineering. Jeansonne had something of a breakout year in 2023, scoring his first wins in the series and finishing second in the points to secure a JTR one-two. Of course, that meant Thomas (below, leading Jeansonne at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta) had to beat a teammate, customer and friend to claim the title.
“As a driver, that’s tough when you’re going up against your teammate like that, but there was a lot of teamwork that went into that, and he had a lot of great results this year,” says Thomas of Jeansonne. “Before we came into the season, before we even went to Daytona, we were preseason testing and we’re like, ‘You know what, let’s go out and race this thing to the end and hopefully it’s us one-two.’
“But as a team owner, having the top two cars in the championship was really kind of a proud moment for me and everybody here at JTR,” he adds, “because it just goes to show that we were able to provide that the best equipment out there to get the two top cars in the championship.”
Thomas plans to come back next year and expects to have seven or eight cars under the JTR tent in 2024. Tune in next season to see if he can become the first three-time Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich championship winner.
* All Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich races are streamed live on RACER.com and archived on The RACER Channel on YouTube. The seven-event, 14-round 2024 season begins at Daytona International Speedway with a Jan. 25-26 double-header. To view the full schedule and learn more about the series, visit mx-5cup.com.