By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
DAYTONA — After years of unreliability that made Mazda an afterthought, the Japanese brand brought their lead RT24-P across the finish line in second place in the 2020 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The No. 77 Mazda Team Joest DPi started on pole position and led 190 of 833 laps with Oliver Jarvis, Olivier Pla and Tristan Nunez sharing driving duties. However, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener escaped the Multimatic-based prototype by just over a minute. Their opening pace could not be replicated late in the race as the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac picked up the overall victory.
Getting the car to the finish was probably Mazda’s biggest symbolic victory at Daytona. The manufacturer had many critics questioning their ability to win after many winless years before reeling off three wins in 2019 at Watkins Glen, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and at Road America.
“I think all of us, Tristan, me and Oliver, we couldn’t be prouder of the team and Mazda and all of the people working so hard on this project,” said Pla. “We ran the perfect race, perfect execution from the team, the car ran perfectly until the end and it’s a massive step compared to last year. We knew we had the performance, the No. 10 car was really fast today and they ran a perfect race, but it was really close. We had nothing more on the table for today, we gave our maximum and the team did a fantastic job, so we’ll take it and we’re happy.”
Mazda’s result gives the team a solid foundation with which to start an assault on the 2020 DPi championship trophy, since all previous years had the team trying to climb out of a hole.
“The last two years, we’ve come away from here with [almost] no points,” said Jarvis. “Now we’re heading into the Sebring 12 hours with a car we know can do 24 hours and points on the table!”
Mazda’s history in prototype endurance is storied. They were the first Japanese brand to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but after the North American sports car merger in 2014, success eluded the brand, almost comically. Former Director of Motorsports for Mazda North American Operations John Doonan was in the Mazda Team Joest pits as the race wound down, and the current IMSA president was elated that the program which was his charge for many years finally finished at Daytona.
“I’m super happy for everybody in the Mazda family,” said Doonan. “It was a long journey to get their first win last summer, strung a few together, but to be able to finish here finally after eight years of not being able to bring one to the finish and low and behold they brought home both of them!”
The No. 55 RT24-P of Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell and Ryan Hunter-Reay stayed in the top four during the majority of the race, but a mechanical issue of unconfirmed source slowed the car down to where they finished sixth.