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IMSA Sebring 12 Hours

Motivation high at Mazda despite program’s demise

Mazda Motorsports drivers Oliver Jarvis, Harry Tincknell and Jonathan Bomarito say there’s been no loss of focus despite the recent announcement that the marque's IMSA program is coming to an end.

#55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda DPi: Oliver Jarvis, Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell

A couple of weeks after finishing a close third – and coming from three laps down – in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, Mazda announced that 2021 was to be its final year in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Prototype division.

Yet according to the drivers, none of the members within the Multimatic Motorsports-run squad have taken their eyes off the target – to win the title for the team which only landed its first wins back in 2019.

Talking ahead of next week’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, Tincknell commented: “I don’t really think it changes too much. Clearly the focus is on winning the championship this year. Of course, to do that we’re just going to have to be exceptionally consistent, more consistent than we’ve ever been before and just continue to rack up the points at the front of the field.

“In the Multimatic camp, things are progressing forwards towards LMH at a fast rate, that has been well documented, and I think obviously there’s no concerns about mechanics or engineers looking elsewhere because they’re going to be very busy going forward. And of course Mazda are advancing with the grassroots side of things with the MX-5.

“So I don’t think within our roster that you’ll see at Sebring that there’s anything but a positive mentality and just continuing on as if the announcement hadn’t been the one that we didn’t wish it was.”

While Tincknell is contracted by Multimatic, Jarvis and Bomarito admitted their contracts were with Mazda, leaving their 2022 plans somewhat up in the air. But Jarvis said he was “quietly confident there’s lots of manufacturers coming in, which means there’s going to be opportunities for drivers both in Europe and the IMSA championship".

He added: “At the moment I’m not really focused on that. We’ve got this championship to go out and win and so this whole focus is really on this year, at present. Of course, at some point we will have to look to the future, all of us, but those talks will probably happen later in the season.”

Sebring outlook

Jarvis said he believes the fight between the Mazda RT24-P, Acura ARX-05s and Cadillac DPi-V.Rs for Prototype and overall honors would be close, and not just because of the thrilling close to January’s Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

“I think it’s always competitive,” said the 37-year-old who has scored a class win at Le Mans 24 Hours and multiple wins in LMP1 and LMP2 in the World Endurance Championship. “Every year I’ve been in the IMSA championship, it’s been tough to win races and tough to fight for podiums, and this year is no different.

"There’s a few new cars, very strong driver lineups, and we saw at Daytona that there’s five or six cars that can win the race. Even after 24 hours, there were three or four cars that could have won it with half hour to go.

“Cadillac’s always there, we know they’re strong in endurance events, they might not always qualify well, or as well as they’d like. We saw before the race that there were some complaints that certain people were sandbagging, but then at the end of the day, Cadillac’s always there at the end of the race. They do a very good job, it’s a strong package.

“But likewise, we had a good performance, a good race. I think a podium was a good reward. We’d love to have won the race but that didn’t quite work out for us. We’re going to Sebring where last year we had a 1-3, really strong result, either car could have won the race.

"So hopefully we can take the momentum from Daytona and also the performance from last year and carry that into Sebring. We’re capable of beating any team out there on our day, but in these races with such strong opposition, everything has to go your way.”

Asked to compare the Mazda with the Cadillac around Sebring’s bumpy 3.74-mile 17-turn course, Jarvis said: “The Cadillac’s always strong out of the low speed corners. Very good traction, and the car seems to take the bumps very well. But I have to say that around Sebring there isn’t really clear strengths [for any car] in terms of corners or parts of the track; it’s quite even.

"Having raced there last year, there wasn’t any particular area where we weren’t competitive, nor were massively better. It’s just one of those tracks where you’ve really gotta commit, and have the car dialed in to the way you like it.

“And the race itself is not all about pure performance. It is such a tough race on car and driver, and there is a lot of strategy involved too. Getting clean air, making sure you stay out of the traffic and things like that.”

Tincknell said the Mazda was as strong, relative to its rivals, in the wet – although he admitted he isn’t the best person to ask…

“There’s a bit of a running joke going because I think in four years, I’ve only done three laps in the wet in this car!” he grinned. “It always seem to be that when it rains, I say, ‘There you go JB!’ [Jonathan Bomarito, his former fulltime partner]. It always seems to happen – Road America was another classic example of that last year, and in the pole race at Daytona this year.

“But we have seen moments when the car’s been super-quick [in the wet]. I remember in the Daytona 240 [last year] at the start, both cars were flying in wet conditions. … Yeah, I don’t think it holds too many worries for us. It’s a possibility [we’ll get a wet track] especially in 12 hours, a full day, but we’re ready, come rain or shine.”

Development of the RT24-P hasn’t stopped

While the Mazda team reduced its entry from two to one car for the 2021 season, leading some to predict the cessation of activities before the LMDh rules came into play, Multimatic Motorsports has continued the work of SpeedSource and Team Joest – previous teams who ran the RT24-P.

While the Mazda’s best tracks used to be the smoother courses such as Daytona or Watkins Glen, it is now a potential winner anywhere. Bomarito, who is this year the endurance race “third man” on the squad, described the development since the car’s introduction in 2017 as “massive.”

He went on: “After the first year, there was a lot of development that needed to happen with the car, and Multimatic took over the program from the constructors’ perspective and just completely redeveloped the back half of the car. A lot of suspension geometry. Multimatic and their dampers, that’s a constant evolution.

“Year after year, the whole car as a package – whether it be suspension, engine, drivetrain – has become more and more reliable, as we saw winning last year’s 12 Hours, and finishing two years in a row on the podium at Daytona 24 Hours.

"From an endurance perspective, the car is just completely different, and the results show it. Finishing these hardcore endurance races is a big feat and proves the development we’ve done over the last five years. There’s just been a constant evolution in dampers, springs and rollbars, getting that combination right.

“Sebring is a very aero-dependent track which we have been very good at in the past; we had that portion. We just needed to find that damper/ride-control setting to deal with some of the big bumps at Sebring like at Turn 1 and 17.

“We’ve been decent on street courses – we didn’t run any last year but when Harry and Oli go back to Long Beach and Detroit this year, you’re going to see the car has good pace on the street courses as well.”

Daytona issues have been resolved

Jarvis says the problems that hindered the #55 Mazda in the Rolex 24 have been fixed, giving further cause for hope for Sebring glory.

“A lot of the issues were small issues,” he said. “We’ve got a great team, they’re back at base in Mooresville, NC., and we’ve had updates letting us know of the issues and what’s been implemented to solve them. That’s the attention to detail that the team goes through. So anything that happened in the 24 Hours has been addressed. I don’t foresee it as being an issue when we arrive at Sebring.

“The fact the car made it through to the end and got back on the lead lap and we had the opportunity to fight for the win at Daytona was amazing, considering the issues we did have. So the nice thing is we’re going to head into Sebring knowing the car can do 24, and the small issues we did have been resolved.”

This includes the issue that left Jarvis in pitlane before the pace laps, and therefore at the back of the field for the start of the race. He was therefore vulnerable to the GT cars – some of whom managed to collide on the opening lap.

“It was certainly an interesting first five minutes of the race!” he smiled. “Generally you think that when you start on the front row that things are going to be slightly easier and you’re going to have the opportunity to take the lead or slide into second.

“But I couldn’t believe it when it didn’t initially go into gear. That was the issue – I just couldn’t select first. So we have procedures we work through, and I communicated to the team what the problem was, and then we tried various things to solve it. Eventually we found the right one, and if that occurs again, we now know exactly which one to go for.

“So it’s something I don’t foresee happening again, but if it does, it will be quickly resolved. Having to start from the back… on my side, I just backed right out, and it’s a good job I did. It was a little surprising to see the GTs have a crash even before the start line! We were fortunate to stay on the lead lap, and even more so that we didn’t get involved in the GT carnage.”

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