Team’s strong performance gains expected to continue in 63rd annual 12-hour race.
If optimism was high within the Mazda Prototype team prior to the season-opening 24-hour race at Daytona, it’s only higher for this week’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring featuring the TUDOR United SportsCar Series. The 63rd-annual Sebring race takes the green flag at 10:45 a.m. E.T. Saturday morning. Fans can watch the race live from the Mazda in-car cameras with audio from the IMSA Radio broadcast at MazdaLIVE.com.
Now in a second season of development, the much-improved Prototypes enter the Sebring event after driver Tom Long put the No. 07 Mazda into the overall lead of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, becoming the first Mazda – and the first diesel-powered car – to ever lead at the 24 Hours. Compared to Daytona, the Sebring circuit is more suited to the torque and handling characteristics of the chassis and the four-cylinder, 2.2-liter Mazda engine.
“The biggest thing with our SKYACTIV Mazda is that the cornering at Sebring – with 17 turns – is a much bigger emphasis over the course of a lap,” said Long. “Our cars brake and handle very well and that’s a huge piece at Sebring. It plays into our favor considerably. We saw that last season here, when were pleasantly surprised about how quick we were at some of the handling sections of the track. The car and engine are both much improved since then, so I expect we’ll be even better in those areas and substantially better on the straightaways.”
The violently bumpy track surface is not just punishing on the cars, but also the drivers. Mazda driver Jonathan Bomarito, who finished second at Sebring last year in the GTLM category with SRT, says he adjusted his fitness routine a year in advance to handle the demands of the 12 Hours.
“Most of the worst bumps are in very high-speed corners,” said Bomarito, driving the No. 70 with Tristan Nunez and Sylvain Tremblay. “So you have high G-force loads at the same time as the bumps, which places even more forces through your entire body. It can be brutal. After last year’s Sebring race, I was sore in certain areas where I was getting tired during the race, so by the time I got home, I had adjusted my (fitness) program to improve those areas for this year.”
Leading the race at Daytona – while seemingly a simple thing to outsiders – has been impactful for the entire team leading up to Sebring.
“It has made everyone hungrier to keep striving,” said Long, who will share the No. 07 with Joel Miller and Ben Devlin. “It was a proud moment for me – an honor – to be able to do that for the SpeedSource team and represent the gains we’ve made with Mazda. I saw on all of the guy’s faces just how powerful that was. I think it’s going to fuel us moving forward. It was just a taste – a taste of what we hadn’t had yet with the development program. I think there’s a lot more there [to improve], and especially at tracks like Sebring or Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, we have a really good shot at doing a whole lot more of it. Everyone can really see it: it’s there to grasp.”