“It’s our day!” screamed Mazda Director of Motorsports John Doonan immediately after the pair of soul red Mazda RT24-P Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race cars took the checkered flag after six grueling hours of racing at Watkins Glen International.
It’s been a long time coming, but Mazda Team Joest is finally a winner in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. No. 55 Mazda RT24-P DPi co-drivers Harry Tincknell, Jonathan Bomarito and Olivier Pla delivered the program’s first victory in a dominating performance at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, leading a 1-2 sweep for the team. No. 77 Mazda DPi co-drivers Oliver Jarvis – who started the race from the pole position, Tristan Nunez and Timo Bernhard finished second, with Jarvis crossing the stripe 0.353 seconds behind Tincknell.
The scene in the Mazda Team Joest pits was sheer pandemonium, with screams, hugs and high fives all around. It was the culmination of six years of hard work and dedication amid struggles, close calls and heartbreak.
The pair of Mazdas were the class of the field throughout the six hours, but entering the final hour, they both were trailing Juan Pablo Montoya – winner of the previous two consecutive WeatherTech Championship races in the No. 6 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi – who grabbed the lead through pit strategy.
Tincknell spent the better part of the next 30 minutes pressuring Montoya and looking for any opportunity to pass. He finally took his shot with 45 minutes to go, diving to the inside going through the “heel” of the famed Watkins Glen International “boot” section and came away as the leader.
“I had to attack and it was difficult to pass,” Tincknell said. “I tried once around the outside and he kind of had a little bit of rubbin’ is racin’ and kind of pushed me off, so I knew it was going to have to be a super-bold move. In those circumstances you’re better off committing 100 percent. It’s the 95 percent commitment move that causes the crash, so I think I was probably 110 percent committed going into that corner, a little bit of rubbin’ is racin’ at the apex, and luckily we came out unscathed.”
Jarvis got past Montoya and into second a few minutes later, and both Mazdas then pulled away from the field as they’d done for most of the race. But that didn’t mean the ending was without drama.
With under 20 minutes to go in the race, the cover on the left side of the No. 55’s engine dislodged and came to a rest on the car’s sidepod, wreaking havoc on the car’s aerodynamics and allowing Jarvis to close up and potentially overtake Tincknell for the victory. But with little to no pressure from behind, the pair of Mazdas elected to remain in formation where they finished.
“It sounds like it was more terrifying outside the car than it was in it,” said Tincknell of the bodywork damage. “I certainly started to feel the car was a little bit freer on the rear, a little bit more loose, but I just thought it was the tires, to be honest. I didn’t quite realize it was the damage that was there. Where that was caused and why, I’m not 100 percent sure.”
“Me and Olly (Pla) were way more nervous, I can tell you that,” added Bomarito.
It was the first overall IMSA race victory for Mazda since the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) Baltimore Grand Prix on Sept. 3, 2011, when Humaid Al Masaood and Steven Kane co-drove the No. 20 Oryx Dyson Racing Mazda-Lola to the win. It was Mazda’s first IMSA win of any kind since Sylvain Tremblay and Tom Long co-drove the diesel-powered No. 70 Mazda 6 GX to the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GX class victory at Lime Rock Park on Sept. 28, 2013.
“It’s been an amazingly long journey,” said Doonan. “All we wanted to do was to reach the top step for all the Mazda fans, all the Mazda owners, all of our Mazda racers, our dealers, our employees, it was trying to have a Mazda day and we finally got there. We didn’t quit. There was plenty of times where faced insane challenges, so many close calls. We almost thought we had it so many times.”
It was Tincknell’s first IMSA victory and the third for Pla, whose most recent WeatherTech Championship win came in the Prototype class at Motul Petit Le Mans in 2016. It was Bomarito’s seventh IMSA win (three WeatherTech Championship, four GRAND-AM) and first since a GTLM class win at Circuit of The Americas in 2014. The No. 55 led 106 of the 291 total laps in the six hours, with the No. 77 leading – appropriately enough – another 77 laps.
“Oh man, it’s so amazing, so amazing,” said Bomarito, who rejoined Mazda’s WeatherTech Championship Prototype team prior to the 2015 season and is a graduate of Mazda’s driver development ladder system. “A Mazda 1-2, this has been a long, long time coming. I’ve been with this program for so long, seen so many ups and downs, but both cars, both crews, amazing job. It’s just as important for the 77. We’ll share it all together tonight.”
In addition to winning the race, the No. 55 team also was the Round 3 winner of the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup as the DPi team that scored the most points in the race.
Speaking of points, it was a huge points day for Montoya and co-driver Dane Cameron, who finished third in the Six Hours. After qualifying second on Saturday, Cameron noticed the No. 6 car had a flat tire on the starting grid, forcing the team to change tires and start the race from pit lane.
They battled back from the early setback and Montoya led 19 laps before taking the team’s fourth consecutive podium result, and second consecutive third-place run at Watkins Glen. That result coupled with a seventh-place result by the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R shared by Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani and Eric Curran moved the No. 6 driving duo into the DPi championship lead by one point, 177-176, over full-season co-drivers Derani and Nasr.
In the LMP2 class, No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA co-drivers Matt McMurry, Gabriel Aubry and Eric Lux took the class victory by 20 laps over the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA squad of Cameron Cassels, Kyle Masson and Andrew Evans. It was the second consecutive victory for McMurry, the team, and was especially big for Lux, who hails from nearby Buffalo, New York.
“It felt really good,” Lux said. “This is a home track for me, just a two-hour drive from Buffalo. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to do this race now. My best finish was fourth, so it feels really good to be on the top step today. It’s constant fighting out there with all the classes. It was great battles. Really hats off to my co-drivers for the great driving all weekend.”