Rounds Three and Four of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires take place at the only street course on the 2022 schedule: The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. After a rainy season opener at Daytona International Raceway, the drivers are looking forward to a warm and sunny event by the ocean.
Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering) is building momentum with a win in last year’s season finale and a win in this year’s season opener, moving him into the championship point lead ahead of the St. Petersburg double-header.
“My confidence is definitely running high as is everyone else in the JTR camp, especially after winning at Daytona which is arguably the biggest race of the year for MX-5 Cup,” Thomas said.
His confidence is further bolstered by his love of the St. Pete track and city.
“I do like St.Pete as a track,” Thomas said. “It presents challenges that we don’t see any place else, and we have always had good pace there. As far as a venue, it is my favorite because it gets the whole city of St. Petersburg involved and gets people exposed to racing that are not necessarily race fans.”
Hot on his heels in the point standings is his former teammate Chris Nunes (No. 32 Formidable Racing). The sophomore standout came away from Daytona with a podium and he will no doubt be racing for a win at St. Petersburg where he finished third and sixth last year.
A winner last year at St. Petersburg, Selin Rollan (No. 87 Hixon Motor Sports) is unique in that he not only races on the runways of Albert Whitted airport, but lands on them as well. Rollan, who lives in Orlando, has his pilot’s license and frequently flies into the airport to grab some lunch at The Hangar restaurant.
“I’ve been flying for about two and a half years now,” Rollan said. “Albert Whitted is my favorite airport because not only is it on the water and right next to downtown, but the runways are short enough that the airport doesn’t get congested with jet traffic. The only planes that fly into Whitted are smaller, general aviation airplanes. I am lucky that Orlando is right in the middle of Daytona and St. Pete, so I get to call the first two races on the schedule my home track!”
The other race winner at St. Petersburg last year was 2020 Mazda MX-Cup Champion Michael Carter (No. 08 Carter Racing Enterprises). Carter is looking to rebound in Rounds Three and Four after a crash in Daytona took him out of the second race. Carter won at St. Petersburg in 2020 as well, making him the only two-time St. Pete winner in the field.
On the opposite side of that spectrum, Connor Zilisch (No. 72 Hixon Motor Sports) comes into the event with zero experience on the temporary street circuit. The rookie impressed many at Daytona with his impeccable car handling in the tricky conditions and is currently the top rookie in the championship. Zilisch is showing exactly why he was chosen as the latest Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout Scholarship winner.
Another rookie to keep an eye on is local driver Dante Tornello (No. 27 Hixon Motor Sports). The 25-year-old is a graduate of the University of Southern Florida – St. Petersburg, the college just across the street from the circuit. Though he grew up watching the race, this will be his first time competing in it.
Track sessions for MX-5 Cup begin Thursday in St. Petersburg. The first race is set for 4:40pm ET on Friday, February 25, with the second race going green at 10:00am ET on Saturday, February 26. Both races are streamed live on RACER.com.