The other significant talking point went to Mazda and its undeniable pace.
Fastest in five of the eight sessions, including a trio of 1-2s by the pair of RT24-Ps, the Mazda Team Joest outfit had all the markings of a program that played its cards wrong at the Roar. The regular routine for most teams, regardless of the class, is to stay off the series’ radar by running slightly below their maximum potential.
With IMSA using the Roar to gather data that will be used to dial cars up or down on lap times through its Balance of Performance rules, posting flashy times — and breaking, albeit unofficially, the outright lap record — had many asking if Mazda armed the series with all it needed to hammer the RT24-Ps through BoP penalties when we return for the race.
As it turns out, Mazda went into the Roar with a plan it presented to IMSA that laid out exactly what unfolded in those eight sessions.
Some manufacturers, and this isn’t exclusive to DPi, deploy the sandbags for significant portions of the Roar, while Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan and the MTJ team went hard to run at race pace, and went hard once more in qualifying trim.
With IMSA’s technical department observing, Doonan said there was no fear or gross misjudgment by Mazda on how to play the Roar.
“IMSA asked us to show what we could do, and we committed ourselves to do that,” he explained after Jarvis turned the 1m33.398s lap. “I commend IMSA for what they’ve done in terms of investing in the tools and analysis to make this a level playing field. I trust the system, and what everyone has done to assure all the manufacturers that come here.
“This is not about who can spend the most money, it’s a level playing field for all of us to showcase our brands. I’m not worried [about being slowed for the race], I’m confident in the system.”
In kind, IMSA competition VP Simon Hodgson spoke warmly of the Japanese manufacturer’s commitment to the BoP process.
“I commend John for that approach,” he said. “I’m sure that some of his peers would say this is John going on the offensive … he’s lobbying through his BoP, but the reality is, when he came to talk to us, we said, ‘Don’t focus on other people. Focus on your program. You’ve got some great drivers in that package,’ and he’s further expanded his investment in people and he’s doing the best he can to make sure his program is correct.”
Hodgson touched on the last point of interest with Mazda’s front-running performances. Take the Michelins, sprinkle in a bit more power for the DPi class as a whole, and then factor in the sweeping upgrades in engineering talent supplied by MTJ partner Multimatic, and this is the version of team that was meant to hit the ground last year.
If the Roar gave Mazda fans a taste of something new, it was a reason to expect the Nos. 55 and 77 entries to give Acura, Cadillac, and Nissan a fair number of headaches. Wins aren’t guaranteed for the MTJ outfit, but with the army of talent contained within this 2019 squad, it won’t be long before seeing the Mazdas up front is no longer a surprise.
GT Le Mans was the only class that looked and felt routine during the Roar. Four of the five manufacturers topped the time sheets, with only BMW lacking a P1 during the seven standard sessions and one qualifying run. Porsche was up front for half of the outings which, considering the somewhat unrewarding 2018 season it endured, could be a cause for optimism.
GTLM’s paddock was the most frequent source of sandbagging complaints, which has become an accepted part of the Roar. Without GTLM teams and drivers pointing fingers at the other brands, the class would not indeed look or feel routine…
By the numbers, five of the GTLM sessions had relatively small gaps from first to second. A scant 0.007s to 0.131s covered those sessions, and in the other three, it widened considerably — at least for a highly controlled category like GTLM. Porsche went 1-2 in the first session (+0.287s to third), 1-2 again in the fifth session (+0.316s to third), and Ford went the farthest by leading Corvette (+0.423s) in the sixth session.
BMW is the one clear outlier for IMSA to review. Never better than fourth, the M8 GTEs floated between fifth and seventh — in a class with nine entries — for the majority of the event.
The Pro-Am GT Daytona class also revealed a brand or three that would benefit from a BoP review. Acura, Ferrari, and Mercedes-AMG featured during the abbreviated two-day test for GTD models, and Audi, defending class champion Lamborghini, and Porsche struggled — barring one session where a 911 GT3 R led — to encroach upon the three leading manufacturers.
Playing the role of performance sleuth is infinitely easier in the Pro-Pro classes like DPi and GTLM; if a brand is out to lunch, the detective work needed to find the root causes — real or contrived — is usually within reach. Less so, in Pro-Am, where the blend of drivers and competencies can muddy the BoP waters.
The stage is set for IMSA. Its investigators are pouring over terabytes of data to verify or debunk the performance information taken off its cars. Weather permitting, new class records and possibly an outright lap record could fall when the WeatherTech Championship teams reconvene from January 24-27. IMSA’s 50th anniversary is finally here.