ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – There was a time John Doonan, director of motorsports for Mazda North American Operations, was six weeks old and he was at Road America.
Some years later, Doonan was still going to Road America and he was crawling through the forests looking for the best spots to watch the races.
Many years later, on a warm Sunday in August, Doonan stood in victory lane barely able to keep his emotions in check after the No. 55 Mazda Team Joest DPi class entry co-driven by Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell won the IMSA Road Race Showcase at Road America.
Just winning at Road America was special for Doonan, but it was also the third-straight victory for Mazda in the DPi class, as well as Mazda’s first win at Road America since 2012.
Fighting through some tears, Doonan managed to say, “I don’t know what to say.”
He added there were about 200 guests on-hand at Road America from Mazda.
“We did it,” Doonan said. “I can’t believe it.”
Even as time had passed since Tincknell drove the No. 55 across the finish line, .227 seconds ahead of Acura Team Penske’s Dane Cameron, Doonan shook hands and gave firm hugs and handshakes to anyone that congratulated him.
In third place was the No. 55’s team car, the No. 77 of Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez. Mazda was trying to go 1-2 for a third straight race, but the team will happily leave Road America with first and third-place finishes.
“I came up the steps (to the media center) and I kept saying, ‘No way,’” Doonan said. “I woke up this morning, didn’t think we had a chance to win this thing. … But I thought we had third- or fourth-place cars as we talked about this morning. And maybe, by chance, there might be some strategy to play.”
He added, “To get one here is really special.”
Doonan didn’t grow up in Wisconsin, but he called Road America a special place and his home track for one reason: family.
“Road America is a family atmosphere where people come and camp and cookout,” Doonan said. “People in motorsports typically talk about their story of a particular track. There’s a certain track in Indianapolis that we all know. Everybody has their Indianapolis story.
“But I also I think there is a massive population that have their Road America story.”
So what is his?
“For me, it was about family,” Doonan said. “We came here as a family. I would get here early in the morning and my parents wouldn’t see me all day because I was crawling through the forest looking for that perfect place to watch, take lap times and watch my favorite drivers of the club racing level.”
He started coming to IMSA races at Road America in the late 1970s and early 1980s and watched the likes of Jim Downing, Roger Mandeville and Tommy Kendall.
“For me personally, it’s a dream come true,” Doonan said.
Bomarito and Tincknell were excited to bring home a victory that meant so much to Doonan.
“I don’t think I could understand the words he was so happy and crying a bit,” Bomarito said when asked what Doonan said to him in victory lane.
“It’s a huge win for him and his family. For John to get to celebrate a victory in his … near his hometown, considered his home track, there’s tons of friends and family here today. It was special to see.
“That’s our employer and friend, the guy who leads the team. It’s amazing to do that for him, but for the whole Mazda team, everybody that’s involved to be on this ride we are on the last three races it’s very, very special.”
The final minutes of the race didn’t lack excitement. Tires increasingly became a factor late in the two-hour, 40-minute race. The race set a track record for laps turned (83) and miles raced (335.984). The previous records were 76 laps and 307.648 miles in 2015.
With 14 minutes to go, Tincknell led Cameron by more than 6.5 seconds. Traffic became an issue, which helped Cameron chase down Tincknell.
With six minutes to go, the gap was down to 3.8 seconds. Three minutes later, the gap was 2.199 seconds. As Tincknell and Cameron took the white flag, they were nose to tail.
Heading into turn five, Tincknell approached slower cars and drove the car in deep because he wanted to put a lapped car between him and Cameron. But, he ran wide out of turn five, which allowed Cameron to close right onto Tincknell.
With a quick move to his left, Tincknell blocked the upcoming corner and got the advantage heading into turn 6 on Cameron. From there, Tincknell hit his marks and held on for the victory.
It was Bomarito and Tincknell’s second win in the last three races as they started the three-peat June 30 at Watkins Glen Int’l.