IMSA is getting beat up in the ring lately. With the collapse of its factory-supported GTLM category, the sanctioning body has already had to pivot its GT classes to a more affordable GTD-based program. Friday’s announcement that Mazda would be ending its DPi program at the end of the 2021 season and would not be pursuing a replacement LMDh program in the future has been a serious hit to the series. This leaves only Acura and Cadillac participating in the class in 2022.
Mazda has been an integral part of the IMSA prototype class since the merger of ALMS and Grand Am in 2014. The series was so well-meshed with Mazda Motorsports that team boss John Doonan left the Japanese manufacturer to be president of IMSA in early 2020. The Mazda program has not, however, been without difficulties. The team has worked with three different supporting partners, finding success difficult until recently.
Working with Speedsource, Mazda equipped a pair of Lola B08/80 chassis with its high-compression turbodiesel SkyActiv-D engine. It was a difficult chassis to work with as Lola went bankrupt, and the production-based engine never delivered the speed and reliability that Mazda Motorsport really needed to be competitive. When Mazda finally ditched the diesel dream, repurposing the ancient MZR-R 2-liter direct injection turbo inline-four built by AER dating back to 2010, it found some speed, but never found proper winner’s circle success.
When the LMP2-based rules changed in 2017, and IMSA introduced the DPi ruleset, Mazda jumped in with the positively gorgeous RT24-P prototype based on a Riley-Multimatic LMP2 chassis. After varying success in the 2017 season, Mazda pulled out halfway through the year to revamp its attack. The team ditched Canadian team Speedsource, opting instead for Germany’s Le Mans winning Joest team.
2018 went better for the team, scoring an important runner-up finish at Petit Le Mans that year. Still no victories for the effort, but massive improvements had come along. 2019 was where Mazda finally found victory lane, scoring a three-in-a-row run of wins at Watkins Glen, Mosport, and Road America that summer. Reportedly the team had already started distancing itself from Joest by that point, working instead with chassis manufacturers Multimatic to find the speed the team needed.
2020 started with the team kicking Joest out of the agreement altogether, as the two separated following the as-normal Daytona 24 race. Another pair of wins came in a very strange 2020 as Multimatic-Mazda won the post-COVID-shutdown Daytona sprint race and crucially the rescheduled 12 Hours of Sebring in late 2020.
When we heard the news that Mazda was cancelling its TCR campaign, and reducing its DPi program from two cars to just one in 2021 we were concerned that this news wouldn’t be too far behind. After the solo Mazda managed to score a second-placed finish at the Daytona 24 last month, the hope was that the team would keep its momentum rolling and re-commit to the series. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, and now Mazda won’t have another chance to take that critical 24 Hours of Daytona victory.
“Mazda is one of the winningest manufacturers in IMSA history, with more than 200 victories at the highest level of IMSA competition and the potential to add to that total through the balance of the 2021 WeatherTech Championship season,” said IMSA President (ex-Mazda) John Doonan.
“Mazda has a long history in racing and recently added several DPi victories and podium finishes during the 2020 season. This is a tribute to our ‘never stop challenging’ spirit,” said Mazda North American Operations chairman and CEO Masahiro Moro.
“We’re especially proud of our victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring, podium finishes at Daytona’s Rolex 24 in both 2020 and 2021, and record-setting laps at Daytona in 2019 and 2020.
“These are significant accomplishments in the history of Mazda Motorsports. We thank our drivers, team, partners, and our fans for their years of support, and look forward to a strong 2021 season.”
It may have had a late arrival on the winning scene, but the Mazda RT24-P will be missed in the IMSA paddock next season. It will absolutely go down as one of the prettiest racing prototypes of all time. With a stellar driver lineup and some of the best team members on the pit box, Mazda mounted a world-class effort that shouldn’t be discounted.
I, for one, truly hope that Mazda reconsiders building a LMDh car in 2023 once it sees how stacked the international grid is going to be.