“It’s been a long time coming,” an exuberant Mazda North America Motorsports Director John Doonan said following Sunday’s breakthrough 1-2 triumph in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.
The afternoon saw Mazdas lead 183 of the 211 laps, with all six Team Joest drivers leading the race. After two and a half years of frustration, the RT-24P demonstrated the car’s potential.
“I feel like this is a bit of a dream,” Doonan admitted. “I feel like someone is going to wake me up here in a second and tell me it’s time to go to the office.”
That wake-up call nearly came when Juan Pablo Montoya took the lead in the pits with more than one hour remaining. The former star of Formula 1 and Indy cars — and a NASCAR Cup Series winner at Watkins Glen — proved to be a tough man to pass as the laps wound down.
“We were not happy with that, of course, losing the lead,” Doonan said. “But everybody on the pit box and in the pits knew that we had the pace all day. I didn’t know if they had more up their sleeves that they hadn’t shown yet, but everybody gritted their teeth and said, ‘We’ve got to stay calm.’ We knew that the cars were good all day, and just hoped that continued through the final stint and a half.”
With 43 minutes remaining, Harry Tincknell found an opportunity in Turn 8, and slipped to the inside of Montoya entering the right-hander. The two cars appeared to have light side-by-side contact, with Tincknell holding his line and then pulling away with the lead.
Montoya had a final turn up front when Tincknell pitted. Montoya and Oliver Jarvis pitted together with 33 minutes remaining. With the race on the line, Jarvis beat his Acura Team Penske rival out of the pits, and from that point it was only a question of which Mazda would win.
“There was such a belief with everyone in the program that we had the car, and we were praying that all the pieces would fall into place today,” Doonan said. “There was no cockiness — ‘We’ve got this,’ ‘This is our day.’
“Frankly, I didn’t think we would dominate the way we did. I knew we were going to be decent, but I thought we would have a massive fight on our hands. I was very shocked — and very pleased — that we were able to do a 1-2.”
Tincknell, tasked with the final stint in the winning No. 55 co-driven by Jonathan Bomarito and Olivier Pla, feels that win No. 2 is not far down the road.
“We worked as a team all day and both cars were fantastic,” Tincknell said. “Both cars led the race, and it was immaculately executed. It’s a dream come true. I’m so happy to win this one. Now that we’ve got the first one, I’m sure No. 2 and No. 3 will come soon.”
Now, Doonan is looking forward to the final four races on the 2019 schedule.
“I’d certainly love to try to repeat next weekend [at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park],” Doonan said. “Then Road America is a very special place for me personally, and there were significant victories for Mazda there. I love all of the next four races, and I’d love coming to Petit [Le Mans] with a mathematical chance of winning the championship. That would be pretty special.”
Making the trip to the Watkins Glen victory podium, Doonan’s celebration beverage of choice was not the usual champagne. Instead, Doonan drank from a big mug of chocolate milk – which his drivers then poured over him.
“When I raced with my dad, we always stopped on the way to the track and got chocolate milk,” he said. “Chocolate milk has always been my drink.”