Mazda Awards Five Deserving Racers with Scholarships

Westin Workman and Nate Cicero named winners of 2021 Spec MX-5 Shootout (Photo: Mazda Motorsports)

Nine finalists for the 2021 Spec MX-5 Shootout (Photo: Mazda Motorsports)

Mazda Motorsports has announced the recipients of its three Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires scholarships and the two members of its factory team in the Spec MX-5 Challenge Series presented by Toyo Tires. The selections come after two days of on and off-track evaluation at Sebring International Raceway.

The competition began with 21 drivers in total, 12 for the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup scholarships and nine young karters for the Spec MX-5 Challenge team. Drivers were judged not only by their lap times, but on their ability to create lasting partnerships, their understanding and application of data analysis, and their range of improvement.

The MX-5 Cup judging panel consisted of Mazda Senior Manager, Brand, Entertainment, and Sponsorships Chris Hill; Mazda Motorsports Program Manager Jonathan Applegate; Motorsport Marketing Manager for BFGoodrich Tires and Michelin Pete Calhoun, professional racers Tom Long and Andrew Carbonell, and Manager of Mazda Motorsports Business Development David Cook. Cook was also on the Spec MX-5 roster of judges, along with Senior Manager at Pagid Racing Jim Emerson; former IndyCar and 2X Daytona 24 Hour winner Max Papis, and one of last year’s MX-5 Cup scholarship winners, Chris Nunes.

Flis Performance prepped and tended to the MX-5 Cup cars, while W2 Racing, Panic Motorsports, and Formidable Racing Development took care of the Spec MX-5 cars.

2021 MX-5 Cup Shootout winners (Photo: Mazda Motorsports)

When all was said and done, Connor Zilisch, of Mooresville, North Carolina, was declared the big winner, earning a scholarship valued at $110,000 to take part in next year’s Mazda MX-5 Cup.

“I can’t believe this happened,” Zilisch said. “I can’t thank Mazda enough. This is an amazing opportunity to forward my progress in the motorsports world and I’m so excited to get to work.”

Runner-up Bryce Cornet, of Norman, Oklahoma, was awarded a $75,000-value scholarship for his performance in the shootout.

“Thank you, Mazda Motorsports, for an amazing opportunity,” Cornet said. “This is the spark my career has needed for a very long time. I can’t thank Mazda and all the partners enough.”

As part of Mazda Motorsports’ commitment to creating more opportunities for female racers, Laura Hayes, of Asheville, North Carolina, was declared the winner of the $75,000 Women’s Initiative Scholarship.

“I’m so excited and honestly a little surprised to be standing here,” Hayes said. “I’m so thankful and excited for the opportunity to work with Mazda. I’m new to the Mazda family, so thank you for taking a chance on me. I hope to make you proud.”

The trio of scholarships is only the start of Mazda’s generous prize fund. Racing in the 2022 MX-5 Cup, these three drivers will have a shot at the $80,000 rookie of the year award or even the $250,000 championship prize.

“Mazda is proud to support these incredible drivers in their quest to become professional racers,” Applegate said. “What we’ve seen today makes me very enthusiastic for next year’s Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup. Connor is impressively wise beyond his 15 years. He and Bryce are a testament to the talent among Mazda club racers. Additionally, it’s great to continue our Women’s Initiative and welcome Laura to the Mazda family.”

Workman and Cicero will compete in selected Spec MX-5 events in 2022 (Photo: Mazda Motorsports)

Making the leap from karting to sports car racing is a daunting task, but Westin Workman, of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Nate Cicero, of Pound Ridge, New York, will have a leg up on the competition. As Mazda club racing factory drivers, the duo will receive financial support, testing opportunities, a driver coach and motorsports mentor to guide them through the motorsports industry and so much more.

“Seeing these young drivers in person during the course of our two-day shootout only strengthens our desire to support the karting community,” Cook said. “ helped us discover nine amazing racers and people in our finalists. Selecting the two recipients was very difficult for Max Papis, Chris Nunes, Jim Emerson and me. We are proud of them all and excited about the future for each.”

The Spec MX-5 Challenge National Champion will receive a five-figure scholarship and an automatic nomination for next year’s MX-5 Cup Shootout.

The 2021 Mazda MX-5 Cup and Spec MX-5 Challenge season finales will take place at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. Spec MX-5 first, November 5 -7, then MX-5 Cup, November 10 – 12. For more information about MX-5 Cup visit To learn more about Spec MX-5 Challenge visit

EKN Global Members Discussion: