DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A year ago at this time, the sports car racing world was buzzing with the news that Mazda would be teaming up with Joest Racing for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship under the Mazda Team Joest banner.
It was a big deal. Joest Racing is one of the most storied teams in sports car racing history, and it had most recently fielded the extremely successful Audi LMP1 program in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
As part of the announcement, the decision was made for Mazda to immediately discontinue its participation in the 2017 WeatherTech Championship season and immediately get to work on its 2018 program.
That means that next week’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America – as well as the America’s Tire 250 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in September and October’s season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta – will be the first race at the venue for the Mazda RT-24P Daytona Prototype international race car.
That doesn’t mean the pair of Mazda Team Joest entries and its drivers – Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell in the No. 55 Mazda DPi and Tristan Nunez and Oliver Jarvis in the No. 77 – won’t be well prepared for the two-hour, 40-minute battle on the scenic, four-mile racetrack.
In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“The drivers – even those who have not driven on these tracks before, Olly and Harry – they’ve been to the ‘DIL,’ the Driver in the Loop simulator that Multimatic (Mazda’s chassis constructor) has,” said Mazda Director of Motorsports John Doonan. “We tested at Road America after Detroit, we tested at WeatherTech Raceway after Long Beach, and we’ve had the opportunity to test at Road Atlanta.
“We don’t have any specific race data from these three facilities, but we’ve had a chance to test now at all three. I think spirits, frankly, are up going into these events based on how the tests have gone.”
Doonan’s spirits also are up about the progress the entire program has made in the year since it was officially unveiled. The team ran among the leaders late into March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and took its first podium result of the season when Nunez and Jarvis finished third in the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio in May.
But nobody associated with the program is satisfied yet, as they’re still looking for their first victory in an extremely difficult WeatherTech Championship Prototype class.
It’s definitely headed in the right direction, though.
“When we announced the team partnership, we made it crystal clear that our goal was to win races and win championships and put results on the board for Mazda,” Doonan said. “We started with the actual product that’s on the track. Multimatic has transformed the race car where we have shown on several occasions throughout the year that we are capable of running up front, leading races and standing on the podium, which we’re proud of.
“But we obviously haven’t reached our ultimate goal. We’ve been close. We’ve shown progress. We’ve shown signs of greatness and opportunity, but it’s now on everybody’s mind to close the deal, if you will, and win as soon as possible, and win multiple times.”
Winning the race at Road America would be a good start. It’d also surely be an emotional win for Doonan, a native of the Chicagoland area a few hours away from Road America who’s been going to that track literally his whole life.
However, he’s quick to point out that it’s about Mazda, not him.
“The place means the world to me,” Doonan says. “I’ve been going there since I was six weeks old. We tested up there after Detroit and because of the beauty of that place and what (track president) George (Bruggenthies) and his staff have done. I spent some time on the back straightaway kind of relishing in a quiet, beautiful morning when we were testing up there.
“To have our first win there, it’d be great for the program and certainly for me personally. It’s definitely not about me. It’s about Mazda. I do hope it comes soon, and that’s the next one, so we’ll hope it comes there.”
When it does come, it’ll be quite a moment.
“To be candid, I’ve been thinking about it for five years, and it’s going to be a culmination of that,” Doonan says. “Mazda has what we fondly refer to as a ‘Challenger spirit like none other.’ That has been what’s kept us going all this time.
“I told the team this as we started the season, I just want to look in everybody’s eyes and ask them the question of what it feels like, because so many people have worked so hard to get us to this place. Some of them, frankly, aren’t even with the program any more. That gives kudos to our previous partner, SpeedSource, and all their employees, the people at the engine shop in England, all the people at Multimatic and the wind tunnel, there’s just so many people that have laid their hands on this program.
“When that (win) comes, it’s for all of them, but I think most importantly, it’s for our Mazda dealers, our Mazda fans, our current owners, to see the type of mentality that’s here at Mazda and that challenger spirit and the willingness to never accept the status quo and continue to strive. It’s going to be big. I can’t wait for it.”