Mazda Team Joest put a bow on its 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season with a second- and third-place finish at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Saturday night.
After qualifying second and third, both Mazdas factored into the battle for the Prototype race lead throughout the ten-hour race.
The No. 77 Castrol/ModSpace Mazda RT24-P driven by Lucas di Grassi, Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez had a relatively trouble-free run, leading multiple times throughout the race. The No. 55 Mazda RT24-P, started by Jonathan Bomarito and also driven by Marino Franchitti and Spencer Pigot, led the early stages of the race. Contact forced the team to change both the nose and tail of the Mazda RT24-P, and the drivers had to recover after going a lap down while making repairs.
Bomarito was able to regain the lead lap in the seventh hour of the race, allowing Pigot, who took the Mazda over with two hours to go, to battle for the win with Jarvis in the No. 77 just ahead on track. As the Prototype teams began to take their final pit stops, the team opted to give up track position to ensure enough both cars had fuel to make it to the finish. In the closing stages, the two went from sixth and seventh to third and fourth positions and then, on the final lap as both cars approached the checkered flag, they passed the second-placed car in the final corner.
“I’m at a loss for words,” said Nunez. “A win is the main goal but having two Mazdas on the podium here at Petit Le Mans is the next best thing. We needed it badly, and to snag it at the last race – on the last lap – I’ll take it. It’s pretty incredible. It was an incredible drive by Olly and Spencer in the last couple of stints, saving fuel the way that they did made this double podium possible, and by all of the guys today. It’s really superb.”
Pigot called the podium finish a fitting end to a crazy race.
“The last lap I came over the hill and saw the No. 5 [Action Express] car going really slow, just coasting down the hill, and there was a GT car between me and him. I didn’t have too many options so I just kind of threw it to the outside and ended up going off the track and bouncing in the dirt to the finish line but we got ahead and into third place. So, it was kind of a fitting end to the race we had today. It was kind of messy at times, but we all pulled together and it’s great to have two Mazdas on the podium.”
Bomarito, Pigot and Franchitti brought home the No. 55’s first podium finish.
“This is very positive for Mazda and the team,” Bomarito said. “It’s a dual podium in one of the toughest races of the year so, we have a lot to be proud of as a team and as a manufacturer. It’s great momentum moving into next year and it’s the first podium for the No. 55. Of course we would have loved to win, but you have to step back and appreciate it, and we had a great day with this double podium. We came back from a lot of difficulties, to say the least, so were flat out the whole way to salvage a third place.”