Mazda does a lot of racing in America. The Japanese automaker, in some way, shape, or form, has its hands in club racing, sports car racing, even open wheel racing, but the crown jewel of Mazda's current motorsport energies has to be its Daytona Prototype International (DPi) class RT24-P cars in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Prototype racing in general has a pretty special place with Mazda fans, considering the pinnacle of Mazda race cars is the iconic Group C sports prototype 787B, the entry that won the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans and remains the only overall victory by a Japanese OEM in the French classic. Since then, the car company's drive to achieve success of equal distinction has ebbed and flowed, but as of 2018 it seems ready to pour more fuel on that fire thanks to the hiring of Joest Racing to run its IMSA program.
If you're world revolves solely around Mazda, the name may not immediately ring a bell, but folks who know Le Mans know Team Joest. This is the outfit that helped Audi prototypes win nine times at Le Mans between 2000 and 2012. Coupled with longtime Mazda racing partners Multimatic and Riley Technologies who handle the design of the chassis and aerodynamics, and engine developers Advanced Engine Research, expectations of victory are now higher than they've been in some time.
We got to see firsthand Mazda Team Joest in action at the recent Grand Prix of Long Beach, where IMSA held its Bubba Burger SportsCar Grand Prix on the street circuit. During our brief pop in, team members were prepping the RT24-Ps for qualifying - performing setup changes with data acquired from earlier practice sessions, checking and double checking the cars' other systems with a fine toothed comb, and running through driver change practice in advance of the next day's 100-minute sprint race.
Powered by the E20 ethanol blend-fueled Mazda MZ-2.0T, a 2-liter, turbo inline-4 cylinder engine producing 600 horsepower, the RT24-P is built on the Riley Mk. 30 chassis and weighs just a hair over 2,000 lbs. sans driver and fuel. Engine power is transmitted through a six-speed sequential, paddle-shifted Xtrac gearbox, and at each corner are Dynamic DSSV shocks, custom independent double A-arms, Brembo calipers chomping on Hitco carbon rotors, and forged aluminum Motegi Racing Technomesh wheels shod in Continental Extreme Contact slicks.
Mazda Motorsports boasts a comprehensive auto racing development ladder system, and specifically its Mazda Road to 24 (MRT24) program offers scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder. In Long Beach, both RT24-P race cars were piloted by MRT24 graduates paired up with European racing champions. The no. 55 RT24-P piloted by drivers Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell finished the GP ninth overall out of 14 cars in class and 22 total entries, while the no. 77 Mazda DPi shared by Tristan Nunez and Oliver Jarvis finished just off the podium by 1.5 seconds in fourth.
Of course, Mazda fan boys will lament the rotary engine - the power train technology that arguably put Mazda on the map, and in fact was what motivated the legendary 787B to victory all those years ago - no longer plays an important role in Mazda racing, and they wouldn't be totally wrong. But to say there was no love for Wankel power in Long Beach is simply incorrect; on track, Kyle Mohan and his insane three rotor-powered American Ethanol MazdaTrix MX-5 Miata screamed around Turns 9, 10, and 11 during the evening Super Drift Challenge demos, and for a tasteful JDM show car execution of a classic platform, you'd need to look no further than the GP's Lifestyle Expo to find our boy Jonny Grunwald's FD3S RX-7 cover car posted up in the Toyo Tires booth. Dig into the gallery to see more of Mazda's footprint at the 2018 Long Beach Grand Prix.