Mazda wins 2021 Petit Le Mans in last race for the Mazda RT24-P
Victory at this year’s Petit Le Mans combined with the team’s win in the 2020 Sebring 12 Hours means Mazda has taken outright victory in two of North America’s blue-ribbon sportscar races over the last two seasons. Having made its debut in 2017, the Mazda RT24-P prototype took seven victories in IMSA competition over five seasons, plus claimed two famous pole positions at the Daytona 24 Hours.
British driver Harry Tincknell, said: “we said at the start of this weekend that we wanted to send off the RT24-P with a high and now we’re spraying champagne at one of the biggest races in the world. I’m so proud of everyone involved in the program, it means more than anything. The outpouring of support from Mazda fans really had us determined to do the best we could and I was never letting that one go at the end, I’m happy to bring it home.”
The race began 10 hours earlier with Tincknell holding second at the start, setting off at a blistering pace after Felipe Nasr in the number 31 Cadillac. However, the team called him in after just 28 minutes for the car’s first pit stop as the qualifying tyres had reached their limit, a lap before a fortuitous full course yellow (FCY) was thrown. He returned to the box again just a few laps later when the pits opened for DPi cars, quickly brimmed the fuel and returned to the track in the lead as the other competitors had to wait on full fuel loads.
He held onto the lead until the next FCY, just after the first hour of racing. Now it was Jonathan Bomarito’s turn to take the wheel with full fuel and new tyres. He rejoined the race in fifth place as this time the other DPi cars eschewed both driver changes and fresh rubber. After yet another, albeit brief FCY, Bomarito resumed his charge and by the end of his run the number 55 Mazda was back in the lead of the race, although on a slightly different strategy to the rest of the DPi protagonists.
At the three-hour mark, Bomarito pitted for tyres and fuel and handed over to Oliver Jarvis who immediately reported a misfire, which took five excruciating slow laps to diagnose. The root cause was a broken spark plug electrode which then required another three laps in the pits to rectify. By the time he returned to the track the 55 Mazda was almost four laps down but now back on full song. The team had a mountain to climb.
The next FCY came just under half an hour later, and by staying out while all the other DPi competitors pitted, followed by a stop just before the track went green, the Multimatic run Mazda team was able to recover one of the lost laps plus catch up the partial lap deficit.
At the restart there was an incident that took out seven GT cars so the whole field went back under caution, this time for over 30 minutes. Multimatic used the opportunity to pit again, on two occasions with no position penalty, to investigate a potential suspension issue that Jarvis had reported. No obvious problem was identified beyond the front splitter being completely jammed with debris which was removed during the stops.
When the race reached half-time, the track was green again. But not for long! As the lap counter reached 199 an incident occurred that the Multimatic engineers believed would cause a FCY and they instructed Jarvis to dive the pits, the only DPi to do so. As he handed over to Tincknell, with new tyres and fuel, the track did indeed go yellow and the Mazda was able to sneak out in front of the DPi leader, gaining back another lap. Then as the pits opened for the prototype cars they all streamed in while the Mazda stayed out and gained a second lap back during the single caution period of fifteen minutes. Good strategy and some incredible luck had returned the Mazda to the lead lap and fully back in the hunt with just under four and a half hours to go.
Tincknell blasted past Jimmie Johnson in the number 48 to take sixth place and soon after made a great move on Alexander Rossi in the number 10 for fifth. He then grabbed fourth from Loic Duval in the number 5 just a handful of laps later. Tincknell pitted with three hours of the race remaining to hand over to Bomarito, a calculated short fill allowed the American to jump to third where he stayed for his entire stint, battling in the heart of the lead action. Jarvis was up next and as the combat intensified and the battle of the short fuel fills reached a peak, the number 55 was pushed down a couple of spots, although Oliver battled back to third with the top three cars covered by just one second for most of his second stint.
With an hour and fifteen minutes left, the engineers rolled the dice again and stopped Jarvis early to get Tincknell in so that he could get acclimatised to the darkness and track conditions and get more than a single final stint to have a go at the leaders. Once the penultimate DPi pit stops had cycled through, the number 55 was in second place, hunting down Felipe Nasr in the number 31 who unfortunately would require less fuel on the last stop due to the strategy that Mazda had chosen. The team called Tincknell in for the final stop with a little over 30 minutes to go, leaving Nasr leaving a full six seconds ahead of the frustrated Englishman. The number 10 of Ricky Taylor also passed the Mazda with a classic undercut helped by a fuel advantage but Tincknell managed to pass him on Taylor’s out lap and started to relentlessly hunt down Nasr. It didn’t take long for the Mazda to reel in the Cadillac and Tincknell pounced in traffic, making a move in turn 7 that, although aggressive, was well considered as he knew that the championship leader wasn’t going to take the risk of fighting back and that single move sealed the final victory for the Mazda RT24-P.
Harry Tincknell took the lead of the 10-hour race with 22 minutes remaining and then raced to a famous final victory for the Mazda RT24-P.
Harry’s full season teammate Oliver Jarvis, said: “this is absolutely amazing, this means so much to us. To win our final race and to send the car out how it deserves – I couldn’t be happier. A huge thanks to the whole team, and also the fans who really supported us”.
As a tribute to the fans of the team and the series, the winning Mazda featured a unique one off livery that featured signatures across the bodywork. For British stars Oliver Jarvis and Harry Tincknell victory for Mazda at Petit Le Mans adds to sportscar racing CVs that include class wins at Le Mans for both, plus victory for Mazda in the 2020 Sebring 12 Hours.
While for Mazda, victory in the 2021 Petit Le Mans and 2020 Sebring 12 Hours, join the famous 1991 Le Mans 24 Hours victory in the brand’s sportscar racing achievements.
Text and Photos by Mazda USA