Mazda has been serious about its sports car racing for quite a while. At this time it’s fair to say that more people race Mazda MX-5 Miata racecar every weekend than any other nameplate.
Having won a 2011 championship with Dyson Racing back in the American Le Mans Series days, the company aligned with SpeedSource and ran a rotary-powered prototype for a single year before deciding to go from the noisiest to the quietest vehicle in the paddock: a diesel-powered prototype in 2013. The idea of a clean diesel race engine was a lofty one; the execution not so much, even with the expertise of SpeedSource’s Sylvain Tremblay.
With scant success in IMSA’s WeatherTech Sportscar Championship, two years ago the decision was made to change teams and to have a new forward-reaching design with the partnership of Reinhold Joest’s Le Mans winning squad, AER and Multimatic. Team Joest had previously partnered with Audi to produce winning cars from 1998 until 2016, when Audi departed endurance racing. That’s when John Doonan, Mazda’s director of motorsports for North American operations decided to enlist this winning team to advance the cause of winning races and titles under the Mazda nameplate.
The Mazda Team Joest partnership began in 2018 with much promise and speed, but it seems star-crossed from the start of the year at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The speed was there in the exquisitely prepared RT24-P racecars; but teething pains saw the promise never fulfilled. And so it went into 2019, where Mazda took pole position with a new track record – something the team did quite regularly – but met difficulties throughout the 24-hour duration and ended up with the pole-wining car in 44th position and the sister team car 40th.
Life was better at Sebring’s Mobil 1 12 Hours where Mazda Team Joest’s Harry Tincknell brought the No. 55 Mazda DPi home in sixth place; the No. 77 had another trying effort and was the second-to-final car in the results sheet, albeit running at the close. The No. 77 had a better day in Long Beach, taking fourth place while the No. 55 was a lap behind i 15th. Ah, racing.
The win appeared to be around the corner at MId-Ohio, but the team settled for second and third places in a short event where only the top four cars were on the lead lap. Detroit was another race to forget (the No. 77 finished 10th and the No. 55 21st).
Then came Watkins Glen, the Sahlens Six Hours of The Glen and redemption. Finally. Everything on the two Soul Red RT-24P cars worked as intended; every one of the six drivers driving the Mazda Team Joest entries led laps during the event and the team finished 1-2 with the No. 55 leading the No. 77 as the two cars finished a scant 0.353 seconds apart. The Acura Team Penske DPi of Juan Pablo Montoya, which had been victorious in the two previous contests, finished third, nearly 12 seconds in arrears.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Doonan, who rode the sidepod of the No. 55 into Watkins Glen International’s Victory Lane. “We had a commitment that we wanted to put Mazda on the top step of the podium: we did it for the Mazda family. Our Mazda fans. Over the last year and a half with Mazda Team Joest, anyone who touched this car in its development: this is for them today. We all said in Victory Lane, ‘We got he first one down, now it’s the next one and the next one and next one and next one’. I sent a message after Detroit that said it’s all how we rebound,” Doonan related.
There are four races remaining in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship for the premier DPi class and four opportunities for Mazda Team Joest to continue to fly. The season concludes October 9-12 with the Motul Petit Le Mans, a 10-hour or 1,000-mile endurance contest. Can Mazda Team Joest continue its winning ways? With in-class competition from Acura Team Penske and a healthy number of Cadillac DPi entries, it could be a tough get, but it’s now apparent this team is ready to grab this victory and work for more.