Image: Mazda

On Sunday, after 6 hours of battling in the Colosseum that is Watkins Glen International, the #55 team of Olivier Pla, Jonathan Bomarito, and Harry Tinknell gave the Joest-operated sultry prototype its first taste of champagne.

The Mazda RT24-P IMSA DPi prototype has been wearing an albatross around its neck since it was introduced in 2017. The bad luck and poor timing associated with this car has been the stuff of legend. For at least the last 12 months, the Mazda team has been within inches of a first time victory on a consistent basis, but something, be it car, driver, or team, would fail to make that win manifest.

Based on the Riley Mk. 30 LMP2 chassis, the RT24-P debuted in 2017 with the SpeedSource team. Later that season, Mazda withdrew its entry for the second half of 2017 to completely revamp the team in preparation for 2018. Longtime partner SpeedSource was dropped in favor of multiple Le Mans-winning Joest.

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Last year was not kind to the Mazda team, as it endured eight retirements and only earned a trio of podiums. Things were looking up as the season ended with a double-podium at Road Atlanta’s Petit Le Mans. 2019 started with a double-retirement at the 24 Hours of Daytona, but the Soul Red car was firmly on pole with a new track record, so it was a bit of a mixed result. The cars had clearly found the speed, now the team needed to conjure the right combo to convert it to a win.

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I’m a bit of a Mazda stan, because I just love a comeback kid story. The Riley chassis is widely considered the least-good of the four LMP2 platforms, and Mazda’s long-serving 2.0 Turbo race motor has proven to not have the torque necessary to negotiate traffic like the Cadillacs and Acuras have. The Joest team have trained that mule into a proper race horse, and I’m here for it.

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Mazda went into Sunday’s race with a striking pole position and new DPi record lap. Through the first five hours of the six hour race, the #77 and #55 Mazdas held the lead, allowing no other teams to take the point. A final-hour caution caught the team out on strategy, however, knocking them down a peg and putting strategy king Penske into the top spot.

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Harry Tinknell in the 55 Mazda was on point, however, getting the jump on Juan Pablo Montoya in the leading Penske Acura to re-take the lead and immediately stretch a nice margin. When the next (and final) round of pit stops happened, the #77 Mazda managed to leapfrog the Acura into second place as well, and that is where they finished. The first Mazda victory is accompanied by a very quick pole position, an equally quick fastest lap of the race, and a reassuring 1-2 finish.

Mazda Motorsports director, John Doonan - “It’s been an amazing journey. We’ve been close but we never gave up - that’s the Mazda philosophy, to never stop challenging. The goal was to put it on the top step for the fans, the people who drive Mazdas, the people that race Mazdas, the people who sell them and for all of the corporate staff in Japan, the United States, Europe and the rest of the world. This is the day we’ve been waiting for. We really felt that today could be our day, so we would focus on racing the other cars and not each other. But in that last half-hour, you listen to every click on the radio worried that something would come. To see that Soul Red Crystal Mazda RT24-P cross the finish line makes this such a special day. This is a group victory for the Mazda brand, and the people as well. I couldn’t be happier.”

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RT24-P #55 driver, Harry Tinknell - “I want to make the most of this opportunity every single time and I didn’t feel as though I did that yesterday, but we rectified that straight away by taking third place by the first corner and leading the race in the second hour. But it was such a team effort today to have both Mazda RT24-Ps lead the race. The six drivers worked together so well, and we’ve improved so much as we push each other. The pit stops were perfect, and the car was perfect. For the Mazda Team Joest boys and girls, who have put more than two years into this, we are so grateful for their efforts and so happy to bring the car to Victory Lane. This win is for all the Mazda fans, the employees, the dealers and all the supporters all over the world. I have said all along that the first win will open the door to more and I hope that’s the case.”

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It’s clear the Mazda team has the speed, and if they’ve found the reliability as well, these RT24-P DPis could be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season.