The breakthrough win was in their hands. A clear lead at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the Mazda Team Joest DPi program with time in the 2h40m contest winding down had all kinds of meaning for the heartbreak team. Close to victory on a few previous occasions, Mazda’s RT24-Ps were fast and reliable — an elusive combination since the model was launched in 2017 — and a win on home turf would have been monumental.
The end to the story is well known. Tripping over a backmarker who was warned to give race leader Harry Tincknell a wide berth, the No. 55 Mazda made contact, spun, and watched as an ESM Nissan DPi took the win. Actual tears were shed within the Mazda camp after the loss.
Returning to the circuit one year later, now named after IMSA’s title sponsor, Mazda Motorsports boss John Doonan doesn’t wince or flinch as hard as he once did at the mention of Laguna Seca 2018.
If anything, Mazda’s string of wins spanning Watkins Glen, Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, and Road America have served as a reminder of not only how close the team came to winning in Monterey, but also how the loss pushed the program to strengthen its ties with one key partner that has made the RT24-P a serious threat in 2019.
“I think since we’ve had the opportunity for the recent success, the three-peat, because we asked more of one partner after last season ended,” Doonan told RACER earlier this week. “I’m here at the Mazda corporate office today in Southern California and everybody’s wishing us well and cheering over the fact that we’re trying to go get four-in-a-row, and people have been asking me, ‘What suddenly changed?’
“If there’s any golden nugget in any of our success, it’s Multimatic and the engineering support, the investment they’ve made — the simulation, the vehicle dynamics, the testing. They’ve just crushed it out of the park in terms of helping this program be successful. In looking at Monterey, throughout the year last year, we had those oh-so-close moments, and the more we’ve involved ourselves with Multimatic, the more success we continue to have.
“Obviously, last year at Monterey, with 30 minutes to go, we’ve got roughly a 30-second lead, and we have the issue. I would just say that as we approach returning to Monterey in 2019, it’s unfinished business there in the midst of trying to keep the streak alive.”
Doonan credits the lingering hunger left behind after Laguna Seca as powerful motivator. Rather than allowing itself to believe the program had reached the necessary level of competitiveness, Mazda asked Multimatic to ignore what was shown at Monterey, and once more a few weeks later in Georgia, and treat the RT24-Ps like machines in need of a fresh approach to finding performance.
“I would say Monterey gave us a taste of how things could be. Petit Le Mans gave us a full-on appetizer when we finished with both the cars on the podium, and obviously the intensive testing that happened after that executed fully by Multimatic is what really changed, I think, the whole program,” he added.
“They set a new standard on prep for the cars. They executed endurance tests so we could focus on the areas that we were concerned about relative to reliability and then it was a matter of time.
“We were so close early on a few times this year. Obviously, Daytona bit us. I’d like to have that one back because I think now the reliability that we have puts us in an extremely good position going into 2020 for those long races. But yeah, without a doubt, Laguna Seca was definitely the sample taste of how close we were to closing the deal and achieving the ultimate goal and finally winning some races. And winning has transformed the entire operation.”