Clever Defense Earns Zilisch Mazda MX-5 Cup Win at Road Atlanta

A masterful last lap pass earned Connor Zilisch (No. 72 Hixon Motor Sports) the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires Round 13 win at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta on Thursday.

Zilisch led Tyler Gonzalez (No. 35 Saito Motorsports Group) across the finish line by just 0.144-second, while championship contender Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering) finished third. The podium finish nearly guarantees Thomas a second Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship with one race remaining.

Following qualifying, the championship appeared to be swinging toward Aaron Jeansonne (No. 24 JTR Motorsports Engineering) who scored pole and with it 10 bonus points to tighten the deficit to Thomas. Jeansonne defended the lead for the opening laps of the race but fell victim to the all-important draft and dropped to fourth. He had a difficult time recovering and continued to lose positions. Contact with another car nearly took him out of the top 10, but he soldiered on and finished seventh.

Meanwhile, at the front of the field, it was a four-car battle for the lead. Zilisch, Gonzalez, Thomas and Selin Rollan (No. 87 Hixon Motorsports) were locked together nose-to-tail and exchanged the lead frequently.

Zilisch started the final lap in the lead but came under attack from all sides on the back stretch. Just when it looked like Gonzalez and Thomas were going to get the better of him, Zilisch swung wide exiting Turn 10 and retook the lead cresting the hill into Turn 12.

Rollan finished third on track, but a 10-second penalty for contact earlier in the race dropped him to fourth in the official results. That gave the final podium spot to Thomas.

“Going into this weekend, I knew that there was a championship battle going on around me and it looks like Jared’s [Thomas] got that pretty much locked up,” Zilisch said. “So, going for race wins is the goal and I was able to get the win in race one.”

It is the third win of the season for Zilisch, who missed four races due to conflicts with other championships and is not in the running for the title.

“I had a really good Hixon Motor Sports car,” Zilisch said. “They always give me cars capable of winning and leave it in my hands to capitalize on that and do my job. I’m just thankful I was able to come back out here and get a win for my team. I wasn’t able to do the full season, unfortunately – I wish I could have raced for a championship this year, but circumstances didn’t allow that, but I’m grateful I could come out here and get some wins every now and then.”

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