Understandably, considerable attention in the Road Atlanta paddock is focused on the championship races in Prototype, GTLM and GTD classes at Petit Le Mans. All of the driver, manufacturer and team titles are still up for grabs although, Cadillac and Ford have all but clinched the Prototype and GTLM manufacturers’ crowns and need only have one of their cars take the green flag on Saturday in order to claim their respective titles
That said, there is a race to be won, and the championship contenders do not necessarily have the inside line on, let alone the exclusive rights, to taking home a checkered flag on Saturday. Indeed, a win at Petit Le Mans can not only go a long way toward salvaging a non-title 2018 season but set the stage for a productive off-season and prove a springboard to the 2019 season.
One need look no further than the Prototype class to find two high-profile programs still in search of their maiden win for 2018, namely Wayne Taylor Racing and Mazda Team Joest. That said, the two programs come to Road Atlanta from considerably different perspectives. WTR, of course, dominated the prototype class 2017 IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship, with its Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-VR winning five of 10 races en route to the team’s third drivers championship. It’s also worth noting, the last time the squad came to Petit Le Mans having already been eliminated from championship contention, WTR won the race in 2014.
Perhaps that’s a big part of the reason Taylor was nearly floating through the paddock today, seemingly without a care in the world.
“We’ve won Petit Le Mans a couple of times already,” he said, “so there’s no pressure on us this weekend; no strategy other than going out and focusing 100% on winning the race. We just have to go out and race. It’s been a tough year, but finishing with a win would be a great way to complete the season and give everyone a boost as we look forward to 2019.”
Director of motorsports for Mazda North American Operations John Doonan echoed those thoughts. “The 2019 season starts this weekend. A win here would give us huge momentum going into the off-season and into next year.”
In contrast to Taylor, however, Doonan and Mazda do not come to Petit Le Mans with a lengthy legacy of race wins and championships. Indeed, this year’s new partnership with fabled Joest Racing was widely hoped to be the move that would vault Mazda’s IMSA program from “promising underdog” to regular winner and championship contender. But the team comes to Road Atlanta with a goose egg in the 2018 win column, notwithstanding running up front more regularly than in the past and one notable instance where they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca.
“It’s time to deliver for Mazda’s fans,” says Doonan. “We had a good test here for a couple of days after Road America and we’re pleased with the BoP (Balance of Performance) regulations for the race. We’re thrilled to have Marino Franchitti and Lucas Di Grassi join our regular lineup of Spencer Pigot, Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez and Oliver Jarvis. Marino drove for us back when we were teamed with Dyson Racing and Lucas is part of the Joest family and the drivers have really jelled.
“We’ve been close all year, but we’ve had some bad luck and some other things that have kept us from a win, and we’d like nothing better than to get our first win here at Petit Le Mans. It would be a great reward for all the work from our partners at AER engines and Multimatic, and especially for Mazda fans.