Mazda RT24-P Takes Miraculous 3rd at the 24 Hours of Daytona
The #55 car, which set the second fastest time in the “pole award” qualifying race the previous week, was set to run under the flag tower from the front row along with the pole sitter, the #31 Cadillac during the rolling start from 3:40pm. However, as driver Jarvis was about to start the formation lap, the gear selector malfunctioned and the car was unable to move. The hearts of everyone in the pit crew surely skipped a beat, however, after resetting and shifting gears, the selector began to work properly, and they were able to start the race. That being said, the formation lap had already begun, and they had to start from the back of the grid. As luck would have it, though, there was some commotion in the GT class, and a full course yellow (FCY – where the safety car takes the lead and no overtaking is permitted) came into effect immediately after the race started, which enabled the Mazda to catch up with the rest of the DPi class and be running in 7th place by lap 9. However, during their first refueling pit stop about 40 minutes later, they were judged to have committed a speeding violation in the pit lane, and were handed a drive-through penalty after pitting out. Despite this early setback, the team was able to lap at a fast pace, and by the end of the two hours, they had temporarily moved back up to 5th. From sunset to midnight, they were running on the same lap as the top group, but just after 2:00am, when the date changed, it was pointed out that the car’s taillight was about to come loose, and they were forced to pit to repair it. The broken part was repaired, and the tail piece assembly replaced, which cost 6 minutes of time and widened the gap with the group to approximately 3 laps.
During the late-night hours, the team switched to a shift where each driver drove 4 consecutive stints of about 160 minutes in order to enable the off-duty drivers to recover from their fatigue. During this time, the three drivers never gave an inch and maintained a fast pace to close the gap with the cars in front of them as much as possible. There were many crashes and course-outs all over the course, along with several FCYs, but with backmarkers in between them and the top group, it was difficult to make up the difference. Even so, Tincknell, who was in charge of the dawn stint, ran lap times that were sometimes 2 seconds faster than the top group, finally closing the gap from 3 laps to 2 laps. Later, after he pitted to change the front brake assembly, he was even faster and put pressure on the cars ahead.
At 10:00am, the #31 Cadillac running in 5th place withdraw from the pits and returned to the garage for repairs. This was reported to be a gearbox problem. With this, the top group was even more closely matched than usual and the top 5 were all running on the same lap. However, as the temperature rose in the morning, some cars appeared to have trouble. The #55 car, which had risen up to 5th, was finally just one lap behind the top group. The skies over the speedway were clearing up and the temperature was expected to exceed 20 degrees in the afternoon. It was time for all teams to be patient. When another FCY was implemented, the gap between the top group and the rest of the field was reduced from over 2 minutes to about 1 minute. Bomarito headed out onto the course at the same time the race was resumed at 10:29am.
At just after noon on Sunday, the temperature was already 24°C with just over 3 hours left in the race. At 12:19pm, Bomarito handed the baton over to Jarvis, and as the #01 Cadillac passed the #60 Acura, the #55 running in 5th place now had its sights set on the Acura. However, since the lap times for both cars were the same, it was hard to make up the difference. Kamui Kobayashi was the final driver for the #48 Cadillac, with the #10 Acura leading by 11 seconds. They were followed by the #01, the #60, and the #55 respectively as the race reached its climax. Then, the FCY was triggered again at 13:15 when the #01’s tire burst, and the gap between the top 5 was immediately closed. When the green flag was waved 18 minutes later, something amazing happened: the #55 jumped up from 4th to 3rd in a superb dash. The #10 car was not going to give up the lead easily, and the #48 Cadillac was hot on the heels of the the #55 car. The tense battle unfolded for the next two hours, with each car making its final pit stop just after 3:10pm, right before the race’s finish. At this point, the #55 Mazda still had a gap of about 5 seconds with the #10 Acura, with the #01 Cadillac, which had already refueled, in between them. The #55, with Tincknell behind the wheel, repeatedly made attempts to overtake the #01, but in the meantime, the #10 car was pulling further ahead. About 6 minutes before the end, the #01 dropped out of the fight, and the #55 car was once again chasing the leader. Unfortunately, at this moment, the #48 car driven by Kamui Kobayashi, which had been closing in from behind, saw an opening and was able to move ahead of them, and the race ended with the checkered flag being waved at 3:40pm.
In 2020, the Mazda RT24-P finished in 2nd place, 65 seconds behind the leader, but this time it finished in 3rd place, 6.5 seconds behind. This year’s 24 Hours of Daytona was truly a dramatic struggle for the Mazda USA drivers and team crew who took on this insatiable challenge.
Text by MZRacing