By IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The celebration in the Mazda Team Joest pits following the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans in October almost resembled a victory.
There were cheers, hugs, high fives and fist bumps all around as the pair of Mazda RT24-P Daytona Prototype international (DPi) cars landed on the podium for the first time thanks to savvy race strategy on the part of the team as other top contender came up a lap short – or less – on fuel.
“To have both cars on the podium for the first time in the history of our program dating back to the 2014 season with the diesel, we’ve never had both cars on the podium,” said Mazda Director of Motorsports John Doonan. “That was a milestone moment for the whole program and primarily for the Mazda brand, but as racers, we’re still not fully satisfied.
“We’re coming here to win. We want to be part of race wins and a lot of celebrations, but also come Petit 2019, we want to be one of – or a couple of – those cars that are in the hunt for the championship. Again, we’re happy in some regards, but not fully satisfied.”
Buoyed by that season-ending momentum, Mazda Team Joest is hard at work on fine-tuning their package for the 2019 season. Doonan believes one of the biggest benefits for the program is simply that they’ve now had more than a full year of working together.
“I think with any of the teams, it’s about people and processes,” he said. “We have always surrounded ourselves with great partners. (Engine builder) AER has been with us – as we head into 2019 – that will be our 17th season with AER. They have been a great partner. They continue to step up their game. We had flawless reliability from Sebring on (in 2018), so I’m really proud of what they’ve done.
“(Chassis constructor) Multimatic has absolutely been a shining star and our relationship with them is so massive. They’ve improved the race car so much, put so many people and resources on the project and they’re just a terrific partner. Obviously, Joest Racing and their history and experience has been a nice addition as well.
“So I think what you have heading into 2019 is all the partners working as one unit, which you can talk about, but when it actually happens – which is what I am experiencing now – that’s when I think everybody is aligned, hopefully, for some success.”
Ultimate success in terms of race wins has eluded the Mazda DPi program to date, but just barely. Especially as the 2018 season wound down, a breakthrough victory was tantalizingly close. In addition to the double podium at Motul Petit Le Mans, there was late-race splash of fuel that took them out of the lead in the closing minutes at Road America, and an incident with a lapped car while leading late at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
So, the team heads into 2019 hungrier than ever to finally get that breakthrough victory.
“We certainly threatened on a number of occasions in 2018 to meet that goal,” Doonan said. “For a variety of reasons, some bad luck at times, some just strictly fuel strategy or the way our race strategy played out – not a mistake on our part, but just the way our race strategy played out – we weren’t able to stand on the top step.
“But there’s plenty of bright spots. We led a lot of laps. The car was competitive with the other cars in the category, and then to end the season on a high note like Petit was really good for everybody.”
Doonan is under no illusion that the 2019 season will be any easier. Like the Mazda Team Joest program, many of their competitors also head into the season with the benefit of experience from a full 2018 season working together.
“Everyone said it was tough last year,” he said. “It’s going to get tougher. Everybody’s got a year under their belts at least. I think the level of quality that’s assembled in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship is the best sports car racing talent, from teams to engineers to drivers, in the world. It just got tougher. I think it’s going to come down to some luck, of course, everybody executing, and it’s going to be a battle. I can’t wait to see how it shakes out and I’m really glad we’re in the thick of it.”