Mazda Prototype team led the race before misfortune struck.
IRVINE, Calif. (January 31, 2016) – The Mazda Prototype team opened the 2016 season with a new race engine – the MZ-2.0T – and high expectations for the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The gas-fueled engine performed well, powering into the lead of the race three times with the No. 55 Mazda Prototype, before mechanical issues knocked both cars out of the race. Unofficially, the No. 55 car finished 10th in class while the No. 70 Mazda finished 13th in class. Despite not finishing the 24-hour race, the Mazda Prototype team leaves Daytona with optimism and looking forward to the remaining races of the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The next event is the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 19.
Race Recap: From the start, the No. 55 Mazda Prototype set sail to the front, taking the overall lead four hours into the race with driver Jonathan Bomarito, a 2010 class winner of the Rolex 24. Bomarito battled for the lead for the next several hours, leading three times for nine laps before pitting while leading at the six-hour mark. As Spencer Pigot, current Indy Lights champion, climbed in for his first Prototype race, the car wouldn’t restart and the team changed the ECU. Pigot re-entered the race three laps behind. In the midst of his lengthy 3 hour, 45 minute stint, the rookie gained back all three laps and turned the car over to Tristan Nunez. Running sixth on the lead lap, Nunez barely avoided being taken out by two GT cars crashing into the wall, only to suffer from a valve train issue and subsequent fire. After 11 hours and 30 minutes of racing, the No. 55 was unable to return to the race. The nine laps led exceeded the total laps led in the 2015 season for Mazda.
The No. 55 car was the sole Mazda on track after the No. 70 Prototype suddenly slowed and driver Tom Long pulled off the circuit into the infield grass only 20 minutes into the race. A flywheel failure did enough damage that the car wasn’t able to return. Drivers Joel Miller and Ben Devlin did not have the opportunity to race.
John Doonan, Director of Mazda Motorsports North America
“Dropping out early is heart-breaking, but we are proud of our pace and performance. Last year, we led the race early on fuel mileage, and we all cheered loudly. But when we led today, there wasn’t an outburst because the team had worked so hard that we believed we would lead – we expected to lead – and that our work was paying off. It hurts to fall out while fighting for the win, but we know we have the team, the drivers and the new MZ-2.0T engine that will challenge for podiums and race wins all season. It’s going to be great fun.”
Jonathan Bomarito, driver, No. 55 Mazda Prototype
“It felt great to be running up-front. Our Mazda is fast and it’s deserving of running in the lead. Everybody’s bummed-out right now, but once the dust settles we’re going to go home and take all the good that we did – we had a lot of good over the weekend – and then improve the things we need to work on. We’re going to come back stronger at Sebring. My mind is already looking forward and what that could hold for us.”
Spencer Pigot, driver, Mazda Prototype No. 55
“It was definitely a long stint for me and I really enjoyed it. The car was a lot of fun, plus there’s a lot of traffic and a lot of passing. Obviously we didn’t have the end we wanted, but I think we can all be very proud of what we proved here and how we all fought hard and never gave up.
“It threw us a bit of a curveball when the engine wouldn’t start. Jonathan did a great job to get us up front and the team did a good job of staying calm on the radio, which helped me. We just had to work hard to make up the time we lost, which we did to end up back on the lead lap when I came in. We fought hard.”
Tristan Nunez, driver, No. 55 Mazda Prototype
“I started the race in heavy traffic, but once I found that rhythm, running with the leaders, it was fantastic. Then, I got in for the last stint, and it was crazy. I just saw the video of almost being taken out by the two GT cars. I didn’t know it was that close. I know Daniel [Tremblay, the No. 55 spotter] was telling me to speed up and I was like ‘Why? I’m on pit lane, man!’ And then… the fire. I heard something strange on the front straightaway but I didn’t know I was on fire. Marcus [Shen, chief engineer] told me to press the fire button and get out. I took one last breath, hit the button and got my butt out of there. Pretty eventful, but I’m all good. It was a great effort by the team and I’m just looking forward to what’s coming next. It feels great to run up front! With all that happened, it was worth every second of all the work everyone has put in.”
Tom Long, driver, No. 70 Mazda Prototype
“We were really minding our business and taking it easy. The No. 90 car was holding us up, but it’s so early that I wasn’t pushing it. Our car is better on the tires so I was waiting until his tires went off on the heavier [Daytona Prototype car]. I was really being cautious and patient. It gave a very strange noise about half-a-lap before it stopped. I was trying to get to the grass as quick as I could. The No. 5 [driver Joao Barbosa] did a great job of not hitting me. I was surprised I didn’t get run into. It’s gut-wrenching.“
Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder which culminates in the Mazda Prototype team that races in the top level of IMSA sports car racing in North America. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar system in open-wheel racing, which includes USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights racing categories with Mazda power. The new MX-5 Cup car makes its debut in 2016, with affordable, turnkey race cars available direct from Mazda. In the grassroots categories, more Mazdas road race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer.
Mazda North American Operations is headquartered in Irvine, Calif., and oversees the sales, marketing, parts and customer service support of Mazda vehicles in the United States and Mexico through nearly 700 dealers. Operations in Mexico are managed by Mazda Motor de Mexico in Mexico City. For more information on Mazda vehicles, including photography and B-roll, please visit the online Mazda media center at www.mazdausamedia.com