Inside Mazda MX-5 Cup: More to prove

In just a few short seasons, Thomas Annunziata has moved up from karts, to taking in a handful of Spec Miata races, then on to Spec MX-5 Challenge, and now to fighting for Rookie of the Year honors in the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich (above, car No. 10). And it’s just the beginning, he says.

“I came into this year trying to prove something, because I know who I am, I know what I’m capable of, and I’ve just got to keep pushing,” says Annunziata.

Annunziata was one of the finalists in Mazda Motorsports’ 2022 MX-5 Cup Shootout. He missed out on the big prize, but still came away with a $75,000 scholarship to compete in MX-5 Cup. He’s putting it to good use, sitting in the top 10 of the overall championship with four races left, as well as battling Shootout winner Nate Cicero for Rookie of the Year honors, which of course comes with a healthy $80,000 scholarship of its own.

Annunziata, now driving the No. 10 MX-5 for Hixon Motorsports, admits that he wasn’t quite ready for MX-5 Cup as the season started.

“Daytona was definitely a wake-up call,” he says.

But Daytona International Speedway is also unique, and playing the drafting game correctly is critical. When the series had its second weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, things began to look up.

“We were battling for the win in both races, and unfortunately I got taken out the last few laps while in second place,” Annunziata says. “But that was when I knew I had the pace and that I can compete with these guys. Then we carried that momentum into Watkins Glen and took two podiums there.”

The two races at Watkins Glen International were tough on a lot of racers in MX-5 Cup, but for Annunziata they proved pivotal, pushing him into the championship fight and a good lead in the Rookie of the Year standings. The following double-header round at Road America was a bit of a setback for him, with a DNF in the first race, but he has two weekends to bounce back, first at VIR and then the finale during the Petit Le Mans weekend at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

In the meantime, Annunziata (below) isn’t sitting still. While top-level prototypes in sports car racing are a goal, he’s traveling more than one path to a career as a professional racecar driver. With MX-5 Cup increasingly becoming a viable path to both IMSA and NASCAR, he’s also competing in Trans-Am TA2 and stock cars, and should that path lead to a career in NASCAR, he would be perfectly happy with that.

At any rate, the extra seat time is certainly building his motorsports knowledge base that began in karts. In Spec MX-5, a series based on the previous-generation MX-5 Cup car, the manual transmissions helped with the necessary multitasking skills. Annunziata says that the cars handle very similarly and, as in MX-5 Cup, carrying speed through the corners is key. He also learned some good off-track skills in communication with others on the race team.

And just as he received a good lesson in drafting at Daytona, his education has continued this season. There’s one thing in particular his 2023 campaign has taught him.

“Patience,” he emphasizes. “I always go into things wanting to prove something, wanting to be the best; but sometimes you need to go through those learning curves. I went through a lot of those in the beginning of this year. We were always fast, but whether it was a mistake on my part, or just simply things such as mechanical failures, it got frustrating.

“But as a racecar driver, you’ve got to stay focused and do the best you can with what you have. So, I think collecting consistent points, whether you have a good car or not, and just being able to consistently be in the conversation, is definitely something I learned this year – not only keep myself in the championship, but to be one of the best out there.”

It seems Annunziata is not only learning, but on his way to proving something as well.

* All Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich races are streamed live on RACER.com and archived on The RACER Channel on YouTube. Don’t miss rounds 11 & 12 from VIR, Aug. 26-27. And to view the full season schedule and learn more about the series, visit mx-5cup.com.

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