DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – If you happened to drive by Daytona Int’l Speedway last week, you may have heard the Mazda RT24-P DPi car turning laps around the 3.56-mile road course.
The car and its drivers turned a lot of laps at DIS last week, then moved a few hours southwest of Daytona to run even more laps at Sebring International Raceway and its legendary, 3.74 miles of bumpy concrete and tarmac.
Mind you, these tests were occurring nearly 90 days before the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship opens with the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Saturday, Jan. 25, and more than 140 days prior to the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on Saturday, March 16.
So, a good first question would be why so soon?
“The Rolex 24 is the biggest endurance race in the States, it’s the biggest race on the IMSA calendar and it would just be an absolute dream if we could (win) it,” said Harry Tincknell, who co-drove the No. 55 Mazda DPi to its historic first victory in the 2019 Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen alongside Jonathan Bomarito and Olivier Pla.
“I mean, I feel like we have the team, we have the car, we have the engine, we have the drivers,” Tincknell continued. “It’s a reality now. I think in the past, a win at the Rolex has been a dream, whereas now it can be a reality. But it’s obviously going to be an incredibly tough race. It’s absolutely relentless and unforgiving.
“It’s the first race of the season. It’s not like we have two or three races to sort of ease our way into the championship. It’s a really brutal schedule from that point of view, which is why we’re here in October testing and getting the reliability sorted.”
Reliability is the next frontier for the Mazda DPi program.
In 2019, the obvious goal for everybody in the program was to finally get that first victory. They poured everything they had into their pursuit of victory, and were finally rewarded not just at Watkins Glen, but in the next two races as well at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Road America.
“Everyone says once you get the first one, they all seem to follow,” said Tristan Nunez, who won at CTMP with Oliver Jarvis in the No. 77 Mazda DPi. “Getting three in a row, I think, really showed that and we had strong showings since then. We were really close at [Motul] Petit [Le Mans on Oct. 12], but didn’t quite get there. We had some bad luck at the end.
“But as a whole, we’re there now. We’re in the first with the big teams. I think all the other teams see that. They’re not just seeing us as the Mazdas on track. They see us as a competitor, strong, and I think they’re a little bit worried about what we’re going to show this  season. I think the big pressure’s out of the way now, getting that first win for Mazda. Now, it’s just continuing that momentum, getting podiums, and I think we’re going to go for a championship this season.”
And a key step to achieving that goal is to have a strong 36 Hours of Florida to start the 2020 campaign. Hence the reason they’ve already logged so many testing miles less than a month into the so-called “offseason.”
“I think 2020 is the year that we go for the championship,” Tincknell said. “That’s the year where we match consistency with winning speed. This year, it was gung-ho every race, just try and get a victory. We didn’t really hold anything back. We took a lot of risk to get those victories.
“Whereas, I think in 2020, if we can have a bit more reliability in the first two races and be up there in the championship, then we can maybe just pick and choose our moments a little bit more. Instead of going for gung-ho, 100 percent, maybe just be a little bit more risk averse and just keep scoring the points.
“Because, at the end of the season, that’s what gets you into the title fight is the consistency rather than the big highs followed by big lows. We had some massive highs in 2019 and we also had some lows. We’ve just got to be a little bit more consistent and I think that’s going to be the difference.”