|Photo Credit: Mazda North American Operations|
While some races of the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule have yet to see a green flag, spectacular news items during July have pumped-up enthusiasm for the 2018 season. Before the month has ended, next season’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship promises two all-new, heavy-hitting DPi efforts guaranteeing to kick the level of sports car racing competition to new heights.
Last week, rumours were confirmed when heavy motorsport player Team Penske broadcasted plans to rejoin sports car racing in association with Honda’s luxury brand Acura in time for next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. Team Penske’s more than five decades of operations is notably celebrated by 16 Indianapolis 500 wins but also possesses success through previous sports car ventures including a 1969 victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. As impressive as a single win in the ultimate French endurance classic can be, Reinhold Joest’s race team perfected a winning strategy resulting in 16 wins. Almost 19 years since entering a manufacturing relationship that is remembered as a sports car racing dynasty with Audi, the German-based organization has found a new manufacturer partnership for future competition. The driver lineup for the Mazda Team Joest 2018 effort will be announced at a later date but it will certainly lure some excellent pilots in the sports car world.
Joest Racing and Mazda Motorsports have combined to create Mazda Team Joest in preparations for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The new DPi category factory-supported race team will operate out of a facility in Atlanta campaigning the existing Mazda RT24-P machine. Described as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” by the director of motorsports for Mazda North American Operations John Doonan, there is a tremendous amount of opportunism between both parties forming Mazda Team Joest. “The creation of Mazda Team Joest provides us a unique opportunity to partner with a team with proven success in the prototype ranks, and gives us the best chance to return Mazda to the top step of the podium.”
Engineered by Markham, Ontario’s Multimatic Motorsports, the Mazda RT24-P prototype race powered by a 600-horsepower Mazda MZ-2.0T engine is already undergoing chassis improvements for the 2018 season. Joest expertise is also cited as playing a part in the continuing development of the prototype sports car.
From 1999 until the end of last year’s FIA World Endurance Championship season, the Joest name’s attached to Audi has been a dynasty. Exhibited first with the 2000 Audi R8 race car, Audi Sport Team Joest amassed not only victories in the top sports car races in the world but went back to wins on multiple occasions. The squad won the 24 Hours of Le Mans 11 times and the 12 Hours of Sebring 7 times. Prior to Audi, Joest Racing’s connection was with another German automaker. A former Porsche factory drive, Reinhold Joest remained loyal to his past employer through the 1990s. It was with the Porsche 956 the team won its first pair of 24 Hours of Le Mans events in 1984 and 1985. Joest Racing also campaigned the Porsche 962 in IMSA GTP competition highlighted by a Rolex 24 at Daytona overall in 1991. The team’s 2018 return to the Rolex 24 at Daytona with Mazda will be the first since the end of the IMSA GTP era in 1993. The pairing with Mazda is most notably the first time the Joest team will be associated with a non-German auto brand. Ralf Jutter, managing director for Joest Racing, commented “For us, this is not only a return to American Racing, which we have always enjoyed, but also great news to the big group of our Japanese fans, who have always warmly embraced us.”
Mazda’s recent efforts in the IMSA prototype category have been a turbulent time. Launched in 2014, Mazda and Speedsource turned to the category in 2014 after the GX Class was discontinued and the Mazda6 SkyActiv-D diesel race car was parked. Still attempting to promote the company’s diesel engine technology (the long-delayed application for production cars is finally being realized later this year), the prototype effort struggled with the basic goal of finishing races. After a 2015 season, Mazda Motorsports abandoned the SkyActiv-D diesel powerplant and opted to run a turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine for 2016. A third-place finish at the Detroit round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was an on-track performance highlight for the more reliable engine and served as a suitable launchpad for Mazda’s all-new 2017 RT24-P prototype race car. After a rough debut at Daytona, the Mazda Motorsports team collected a trio of third-place finishes through seven races. Emphasizing the Mazda Team Joest organization’s focus on a strong 2018 debut, Mazda Motorsports has withdrawn from the remaining three races of the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCarChampionship.
For 2018, Mazda Team Joest and Team Penske will be attempting to unseat the Cadillac DPi-V.R from its pedestal position in the current IMSA prototype category.