Mazda Scholarship racer Workman wins second MX-5 Cup race in photo finish

By | March 16, 2024

The Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by Michelin continued the tradition of races ending with minuscule winning margins and delivered another photo finish at Sebring International Raceway on Friday. Rookie and Mazda Shootout Scholarship winner Westin Workman (No. 13 BSI Racing) defeated Connor Zilisch (No. 72 BSI Racing) by 0.004 seconds.

Workman started the 45-minute race on the outside of the front row, but did not get the best start and dropped out of the top five. He worked his way back into the top three before the first of two full caution periods.

In the opening stages of the race, Gresham Wagner (No. 5 McCumbee McAleer Racing), a points leader entering Sebring, collided with Thursday’s race winner, Tyler Gonzalez (No. 57 Saito Motorsports Group). Gonzalez continued, but Wagner fell to the back of the field.

However, Gonzalez didn’t last long. A mechanical problem brought his car to a halt at Turn 15 and a full caution was issued. Gonzalez was able to jump out and quickly repair his battery before continuing on the track and into the pits. He returned to the track but struggled and ended up finishing a lap down.

Zilisch returned to green flag racing and led the field, followed by Workman and Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering). A lap later another full yellow came out to pick up another stranded car, but after the second restart the race remained green until the checkered flag.

Workman was able to get around Zilisch with just a few minutes left, but that wasn’t exactly where he wanted to be when the white flag came out.

“The driving style here at Sebring is a little different than at Daytona,” Workman said. “At Daytona you really don’t want to be leading. And here we immediately have a very long back and I didn’t think the lead was the best place to be in, but I couldn’t control to let a few cars pass and get the draft right at the back because there are too many cars in our front platoon. So I just stayed in the lead.”

Entering the final turn, Workman defended the inside against Zilisch, while Jeremy Fletcher (No. 22 McCumbee McAleer Racing) took the outside line. There was contact between Zilisch and Workman at the top, but it didn’t slow them down and they powered to the finish.

Workman took his first Mazda MX-5 Cup victory by 0.004 seconds over Zilisch. It is the third-fastest finish in series history, right behind the 2021 MX-5 Cup race at Sebring, which ended with a finish of 0.001 seconds.

“I’m just very happy and very grateful for all the opportunities that Mazda Motorsports has given me,” said Workman. “To win this race felt like redemption from Daytona, where we had some unfortunate situations on the last lap in both races. I am very happy that I was able to complete the job this weekend. Thank you to Mazda Motorsports and BSI Racing for a really fast car.”

Zilisch – who announced just before the Sebring race that he would make his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut at COTA – repeated his second-place finish from the day before and while he was disappointed, he knew it was a solid weekend.

“Today’s race was honestly a little less stressful,” Zillich said. “You know, I felt a lot more comfortable at the front with my teammate and it was just good to be at the front the whole race. I knew they were going to get us, you just can’t retreat in this series. It was really hot there.

“I’m happy he (Workman) got a win and got his first of his career in the series. The first one is always special, so I’m happy for him and happy that we could get a 1-2 for BSI Racing, but two seconds in one weekend, not what I wanted! It’s not what we want, but it’s hard to be frustrated when we had the chance to win in both races.”

Finishing third was a welcome result for Fletcher, who earned a DNF in Thursday’s race.

“We definitely fell back at the start,” Fletcher said. “I thought I personally fell off there and didn’t have the pace, but those warnings came up and I got the engine temperature and tire temperature down and went after it hard and started moving up through the field.

“This is definitely a great start to the year with three podium finishes. I can’t thank the MMR guys enough, my mechanic Dalton, the Holster Store and my grandparents for bringing me here. Everyone who helped me with this. It was an unfortunate day yesterday, but I’m glad we’re coming back today.”

Thomas, the defending MX-5 Cup champion, finished fourth with his teammate Aaron Jeansonne (No. 24 JTR Motorsports Engineering) right behind him in fifth.

Jesse Love (No. 2 Hendricks Motorsports) made his MX-5 Cup debut at Sebring and made big strides in the second race, finishing 12th.

The MX-5 Cup field has two months off before heading to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. Rounds 5 and 6 will take place May 10-12, with live streaming available on RACER.com and IMSA.tv.

RESULTS

The story originally appeared on Racer

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