Mazda Motorsports drivers Jonathon Bomarito and Joel Miller are set for today’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, the debut for the brand’s DPi challenger as part of IMSA’s new era for prototype racing in North America.
The Speedsource team which is running Mazda’s factory outfit in WeatherTech has been an ever-present part of IMSA and Grand Am before that, but so far has failed to score an all elusive win while racing with the Japanese brand in the Prototype class. 2017 could well be different though, with the brand coming into 2017 with a new car up against new machinery from Cadillac, Nissan/Onroak and global LMP2 cars from Oreca, Ligier and Riley/Multimatic.
Both drivers are confident that Mazda has a real chance to fight for the championship and the Rolex 24 Hours win this weekend. Miller, who is driving the #70 RT24-P alongside James Hinchcliffe and Tom Long, is confident of the team’s direction and feels that the DPi formula as a whole will prove to be a success over the next few years.
“The new cars, the new DPi platform is so new for us,” Miller told DSC. “It’s an elevation of the division, the cars are quicker, the power is there, and narrower and longer, it’s what it needed. I think the idea to have the manufacturers involved makes it interesting for the fans. For us, coming from an older car, it’s a massive step.
“Mazda has put in so many resources because of this. Going back to the design of the car, they’ve used the same philosophy they used to design their raad cars in designing the DPi. The in-house Mazda engineers who work on the road cars helped out multimatic and Riley to help with the race car. It as a joint effort.
“From inside the cockpit though, the resources Mazda have are massive for us. It’s a full factory effort, and we’re here to win races for Mazda.
“Before you’d go get a chassis, throw an engine in the back and slap a sticker on it, now the marques have a deep involvement, like how it used to be. I think I can say on the Mazda side that we have the deepest manufacturer involvement in the paddock.”
Bomarito agrees, IMSA’s new stance on its top prototype class has kept Mazda coming back and trying to win races after previously racing with a pair of Multimatic-built Lola chassis and in the GX class with a diesel-powered Mazda^ with a 2.2-Liter SKYACTIV-D Four-Cylinder engine.
“I think it’s lived up to it, and there’s still a lot of potential to grow,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement and buzz around it. I’m hearing there’s quite a bit of interest from other manufacturers to get involved as well which is great news.
“I know Mazda wouldn’t be as interested to run here in Prototype if they couldn’t have design cues from their road car. So opening up the rules for the DPi category allows more manufacturers to be involved. it’s a positive thing, we’re seeing it with Nissan, Cadillac and Mazda. Hopefully a few more join in and next year’s 24 will be even bigger.
“But not a lot of us have a lot of run time in our cars yet, so it’ll be a good show because there’s a lot of unknowns.”
Going into race week, the Mazda has been tested by all its drivers, and with an engine which has been developed over recent years but the team, could prove to be a competitive package over the 24 hours.
“We’re over a thousand miles of testing before we got to race week, but where we started to where we are now I think is smaller than what you’d think,” Miller revealed. “There’s so much simulation tech in there now, that side of it, there’s so much math in the car, so that when we rolled the car out it hit the ground running.”
“Mazda’s partner AER who build the engine has put a lot of resources and funding over the winter to improve on what we had last year because essentially it’s the same engine. With that in mind we’re the only carryover engine, and we’ve updated everything we knew from last year that needed improvement.
“We’re confident that we can stay reliable. During the entire Roar the engine didn’t miss a beat, so that offseason development has been encouraging.”
Bomarito though, stresses that it’s ket to be realistic when it comes to expectations of the new car out of the box.
“I think to be honest there’s a lot of unknowns and every prototype is in the same boat,” he said when asked about the team’s goals heading into the race. “Yes we’re here for one reason and that’s to be on the top step but we need to learn from this race to help us for the rest of the year. Personally our goals is to be on the lead lap at the end of the race.
“We need to see where we’re at at that point, it would be a huge accomplishment, and we’ll most likely be on the podium if we’re on the lead lap.”
Bomarito, who this year is driving the #55 with Tristan Nunez and Spenser Pigot, has been a part of the Mazda programme since 2015 was also keen to point out that now more than ever, winning is a priority for the team.
Mazda’s prototypes have recently shown off front-running pace but fragility over full-races in IMSA, particularly last season when the team consistently qualified well but finished the season without a victory.
“I’ve been driving for a manufacturer for the last seven years now,” he said. “So there’s always pressure, as they’re spending millions and a lot of it is in your hands to perform and represent the brand positively. They want results, we need results. It’s time in our programme where we need to get some wins and run to the front on a consistent basis and prove our value and their investment.
“We need to see where we’re at on Sunday, victory would be a huge accomplishment, and we’ll most likely be on the podium if we’re on the lead lap.”
“We need a win though, we need it, it would be huge,” he expressed. “There wouldn’t be many dry eyes in the team or the Mazda executive. it’s been a really tough off season, these guys have worked 16-hour days for a long time now so for us drivers, we have it a little easier. We want to win for the crew so badly.
“We’ve put a lot of that on our shoulders, we’ve got to get it done for those guys.”