Photo: Courtesy of IMSA

Mazda Team Joest Triumphant With 1-2 at Sahlen’s Six Hours of Watkins Glen

By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer

WATKINS GLEN, New York — After years of futility, Mazda Team Joest has finally triumphed overall in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in Sunday’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen with a 1-2 finish.

Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell and Olivier Pla brought the No. 55 RT24-P DPi machine across the line just .353 seconds ahead of the No. 77 RT24-P of Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez and Timo Bernhard. The pair were 11.783 seconds ahead of third place and two laps ahead of sixth place.

Full season drivers Bomarito and Tincknell have been paired up for this program since 2018. Bomarito has driven Mazdas almost every year in sports car racing since 2010 and this win probably meant the most for him of any of the six drivers.

“To get the win today is just absolutely incredible,” said Bomarito. “Not only was it Mazda’s win but we did it with a 1-2, the 77 car did an amazing job as well. As far as I’m concerned they’re right up here with us, all three drivers and that whole crew. What an amazing performance by Mazda today. Through all of this it’s been a long time coming but to finally be up on the top step is absolutely so special.”

Tincknell was the last driver in the winning car and had to fight hard to get around the No. 6 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi of Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya was leading late after getting out ahead of the Mazda duo during the final sequence of yellow flag pit stops and Tincknell had to make a late move in Turn 8 to steal the win away from Montoya.

“I had to attack and it was difficult to pass,” said Tincknell. “I tried once around the outside and we had a bit of a rubbing’s racing where he kind of pushed me off and so I knew it was going to have to be a super bold move. I think in those circumstances you’re better off committing at 100 percent, 95 percent would’ve caused us to crash so I think I was probably 110 percent committed going into [Turn 8], little bit of rubbing’s racing at the apex and luckily we came out unscathed and from there we could just bring it home.”

Sunday wasn’t just a win for Mazda. It was a statement win. Complete domination.

Between both cars, they led 183 of the 211 laps completed. The longest stretch that Mazda were out of the lead was 19 laps when Montoya was leading late. The Japanese manufacturer set a distance record and were pulling away from the field at will during the race.

Most importantly, it was a win for John Doonan. The Director of Motorsports of Mazda North American Operations has seen all of the negativity, all of the heartache, all of the flames and all of the coulda, woulda, shoulda moments.

“We made a commitment that we wanted to put a Mazda on the top step of the podium and it’s been a crazy journey,” said Doonan. “Really, we did it for one group of people and that’s the Mazda family, our Mazda fans, people that own Mazda road cars, people that race Mazdas, people that sell them at our 600+ dealerships nationwide, people that work at the factory or work at the corporate office in the U.S. or Japan, Europe, all over the world and that’s what today was all about.

“I’m really grateful to IMSA for the opportunity to race these DPis, the design that our designers in North America and Japan came up with absolutely exemplifies the design and beauty that is Mazda, the people in the blue, white and yellow over here make an amazing tire, the Michelin family, absolutely fantastic tires and all of the other IMSA partners. This did not happen by accident.”

Doonan was moved to tears thinking about the journey that Mazda has been on over the last few years.

“I certainly didn’t think we would ever dominate a race,” said Doonan. “But people are telling me we led so many laps, we set a distance record and we had fastest race lap that was so many seconds faster than last year and honestly I can’t believe it was that much of a Mazda day and glory to God for giving us the opportunity to do this.”

The Mazda team had come close to winning several times before Sunday’s triumph. At Laguna Seca last year they led until the last half hour after contact with another car took them out of the lead. At Road America they led within the last ten minutes but had to stop for fuel and at Petit Le Mans the two cars finished second and third. However, what probably stung the most was Mid-Ohio when they set a new track record in qualifying but still came second and third in the race.

“Today I was thinking ’30 minutes, okay, we’re past Laguna Seca now,’ and then 10 and then five and then three minutes I’m like ‘oh gosh, what can be possible now!’ I just wanted to be on the pit wall with all the guys and everybody that’s worked so hard and I had envisioned what the celebration would be like and it’s way beyond that dream.”

The final bit of icing on the cake was that Mazda’s first win was an endurance win. It wasn’t a standard two hour, 40 minute race, it wasn’t a 100 minute sprint race at Detroit or Long Beach. It was a six hour race win.

“There’s been a lot of naysayers over the years about our reliability in endurance races but again, AER and Multimatic have worked so hard on the package that it was going to come,” said Doonan.

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.