Rolex 24 at Daytona Preview

First race for Mazda Team Joest is this weekend in IMSA’s longest race of the season

The Mazdas at the Rolex 24 at Daytona will look familiar, but nearly everything is new. Mazda is racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with a new team, and much under the skin of the Mazda RT-24P Daytona Prototype international car is changed.

The driver lineup has changed as well. While a few drivers are returning, they are paired with new co-drivers. Tristan Nuñez returns to drive the No.77; he’ll be joined by Oliver Jarvis full time and Rene Rast for Daytona and the other long races. Jonathan Bomarito is back in the No. 55, partnering with Harry Tincknell. Spencer Pigot will add on to his Ed Carpenter Racing IndyCar Series duties by joining that pair for the long events.

Mazda took a break following the first three races of 2017, after scoring a best finish of third at Long Beach for Nuñez and Bomarito. The remainder of the year was spent transitioning to Team Joest and making changes to the car, which includes revised suspension geometry and reduced weight. Testing in December and at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 indicated positive results.

“The biggest change I could feel is the chassis,” explains Nuñez. “It feels like a completely different car. We had an issue with the car feeling numb and not being able to take changes well. That’s completely gone. The changes we put into the car, we feel instantly. It’s more of a driver’s car now – you feel the inputs better and it’s a lot more fun to drive. You can push the car harder and take some big corner speeds a lot nicer.”

On the team side, Nuñez has seen some positive changes there as well, including a new level of dedication. All the drivers were going to be together a week before the race and spend a couple of days practicing driver changes. “They have all the resources, all the crew guys, and they want to go to the track and win races. They look over every aspect of the race and what it takes to win,” Nuñez adds.

At the Roar’s “qualifying,” where teams set times to determine pit position, the No. 55 was eighth overall. The No. 70 was 20th but had set times right on pace with its sister car in earlier sessions. The field is deep and close this year, with positions five through 12 in Roar qualifying covered by a second. However, speed doesn’t always determine the Rolex 24 winner, so Nuñez is hesitant to make any predictions.

“You really can’t go in with expectations because it’s such a crapshoot,” he says. “It’s such a long race, so much can happen, even in just the night portion. Last year it rained like crazy, and when it comes to those kinds of conditions you can’t really know what’s going to happen. But the good thing about Mazda Team Joest is we’re with an incredible team and they have incredible resources. We have great engineers and great strategists. I think whatever is thrown our way, we’ll be able to capitalize on it.”

Early weather forecasts for the Rolex 24 indicate a good chance of rain, so it may be a repeat of last year’s weather. Regardless, Nuñez expects some more changes to the car to find a bit more speed, and is optimistic. In a 24-hour race, though, much of it comes down to survival. “Our biggest goal right now is to make it to the last hour of the race,” says Nuñez. “Then we’ll go racing.”