After a tough first half to the 2017 season, the first with the RT24-P, Mazda made the plunge, cut its campaign short, and drafted in Team Joest to aid the car’s development and run the marque’s ambitious IMSA DPi programme into the 2018 season.
And yet, after major improvements to the car’s cooling systems, aero and suspension, with assistance from Multimatic, the car hasn’t had a good start to 2018. It still struggled at the opening round of this season at Daytona, the issues starting at the Roar Before the 24, when the team lost a day of track time due to parts being delivered late.
Problems persisted then continued into race week, the cars lacking raw pace, then suffering multiple issues during the race, the #55 retiring on Sunday morning with an exhaust issue, before the team parked the #77 after multiple electrical issues and a power steering failure.
The team then headed to Sebring for the IMSA pre-event test, and suffered a fire on the #55, forcing the team to pack up a day early.
But factory driver Jonathan Bomarito, who is in his fourth year with Mazda, is certain that the team can turn it around, explaining to DSC that the new RT24-P still has heaps of potential.
Because of that, he’s extremely happy to be a part of the re-jigged line-up for the season.
“Just being a factory driver is a dream, so I’ve accomplished that,” he said. “Now we’re partnered with a team like Joest, who have worked with incredible drivers. They know the calibre of drivers they want to work with, so to be entrusted to work with them is a great feeling.
We’ve made huge improvements to the car at the front. Both in low-speed mechanical grip and aero balance.
“This year’s RT24-P is a completely different car. If you blindfolded me, and put me in it, I would say it’s a different model.
“We’ve made huge improvements to the car at the front. Both in low-speed mechanical grip and aero balance. The roll-centres, tune-ability of the car, it’s better at reacting to changes, the cooling…. The list goes on. The new guys coming in are spoiled, as those of us who were here last year had to do all the development work.
“It’s largely due to Multimatic, Mazda putting people in the right place, and Joest’s experience.”
While the car, he says, at its core is much improved, it hasn’t been a simple process, fixing some of the design flaws with the original version.
“It hasn’t been seamless or easy, the guys have put in an incredible amount of hours,” he said. “That’s what impresses me about the guys from Joest. They will stay up all night for five nights in a row, without a thought. They are ready to work, and focus.
“We had to put in so much work to completely re-work it. The amount of testing and simulator work, all the stuff aside from just testing, even the logistics of a team from Germany to help with us has been tough.
“Reliability wise, we’ve had certain issues, but talking with Ralf Juttner’s about Audi’s testing, he knows that everyone has issues. You just need a plan to fix the problem, some take six months to fix. But Joest gets it done.”
Bomarito, who shares the #55 with Harry Tincknell and Spencer Pigot, is still hopeful the team can challenge for the title at the end of the year, as he feels the car should be stronger at some of the circuits towards the end of the season.
“My expectation for the rest of the year is to get that elusive win first and foremost.
John Doonan, eats, sleeps and breathes this stuff. I want him to get that winning feeling
“This is a company that has stuck to funding a programme at this level for countless years. They deserve a win, guys like John Doonan (the head of Mazda Motorsports), eats, sleeps and breathes this stuff. And I want him to get that winning feeling, I want to feel that, I miss it. I want that for him and the company so bad.
“And secondly, I want to be working for the championship win at the end of the year, and I still think we can do that. I don’t just want to be getting another win and be out of it.
“Anything can happen going forward. For me the toughest races are Daytona and Sebring. We need points, because they’re the longest races, and because I know that for rest of the year, we are going to be a force.”
Photos courtesy of Jakob Ebrey Photography