By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
After a growing year with new partner Team Joest, Mazda finished off their 2018 IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship challenge with a double podium finish at this past weekend’s Motul Petit Le Mans with a second and third place finish for their two RT24-P DPi machines.
The No. 55 of Spencer Pigot, Jonathan Bomarito and Marino Franchitti led at times but they had the lion’s share of bad luck for the team with contact forcing the mechanics to replace the nose and tail on the car and the drivers to gain back a lap that was lost in the pits.
Meanwhile, the No. 77 of Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez and Lucas di Grassi led multiple times during the race as well but their run was relatively trouble free as they fought in the lead pack during most of the race. As the race wound down, both cars pitted for a small amount of fuel to help them finish and the stops paid off as both cars passed the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi in the final corner to take second and third place within the last two corners of the race with the 77 leading the 55 as the 55 went off into the grass coming off the final corner while attempting to overtake a GT car in the final corner.
“It’s fantastic to get a double podium to close out the season,” said John Doonan, Director of Mazda Motorsports in a release.
“Certainly, this gives us a lot of positive momentum going into 2019. We are not fully satisfied, we wanted the top step and that’s what we came to do, but this represents an incredible effort by the team. This result also reflects a huge effort by Mazda Team Joest and Multimatic to get this race car where it is today, by AER to put together a season of great reliability, and by the Mazda Team Joest crew. Now, we focus on 2019 and the Rolex 24.”
For Bomarito, the outing was “very positive.”
“This is very positive for Mazda and the team,” said Bomarito. “It’s a dual podium in one of the toughest races of the year, so we have a lot to be proud of as a team and as a manufacturer. It’s great momentum moving into next year and it’s the first podium for the No. 55. Of course we would have loved to win, but you have to step back and appreciate it, and we had a great day with this double podium. We came back from a lot of difficulties, to say the least, so were flat out the whole way to salvage a third place. We felt like we were really strong and could have potentially won, but I think we have to really be thankful for this podium finish.”
“You know, we were comfortably in third and I knew the guys ahead of us were struggling with fuel,” said Jarvis. “Approaching (Turn) 12, the No. 5 car was slowing up on the last corner, and there was enough time to get ahead of him into second and for Spencer to move into third. But what a race, I have to say this is a really tough race. We had the pace, and I have to say right now I’m a little bit gutted. I’m proud of what we achieved, but I really wanted to deliver that win for Mazda and it was so close. It’s one of those races where it’s just flat out, its really tough out there. Big thanks to Mazda Team Joest, Multimatic, and AER.”
For Mazda Team Joest, 2018 was a massive learning curve. Mazda called on the Joest organization to further move their prototypes up the field after years with Speedsource and immediately ran into issues with a double retirement at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
From there, both cars finished at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring and Jarvis and Nunez actually got a podium at Mid-Ohio while Pigot and Bomarito retired after contact forced them out at the Lexington, Ohio track.
The season tugged at Mazda’s heartstrings a bit more after Jarvis and Nunez ran out of fuel after running in fourth place on the last lap in Detroit. The heartache continued for the Joest organization as Bomarito led late at Road America but had to make a pit stop with just under 10 minutes to go in that race.
However, with a double podium at the final race of the season and a change coming up in the Prototype class structure, Mazda has a lot to look forward to in 2019.