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Mazda Motorsports returns to Watkins Glen, where the team turned around its 2019 season

Mazda Watkins Glen

#55 Mazda Team Joest Mazda DPi, DPi: Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell, Olivier Pla, #77 Mazda Team Joest Mazda DPi, DPi: Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez, Timo Bernhard

LAT Images

As Mazda Motorsports, with full-time drivers Oliver Jarvis and Harry Tincknell behind the wheel, tries to chase down the Konica Minolta Acura team, the team hopes Watkins Glen International is just as pivotal this year in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship Series as in 2019.

Mazda Motorsports was operating as a two-car team two years ago, and it was in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen that momentum began to develop. Finishing first and second in that race ahead of the Team Penske Acura team, they went on to score three consecutive victories. Mazda finished one-two again at Mosport in Bowmanville, Ontario, and were then first and third at Road America.

Tincknell won in 2019 with Jonathan Bomarito and Olivier Pla as co-drivers, and Jarvis was part of the second-place team. After restructuring to one car, Tincknell and Jarvis are racing the full schedule in the No. 55 with Bomarito taking on the duties as the third driver in endurance events, which he will do this weekend at the Glen.

“It seems like forever since we’ve been back there, but like you mentioned, the breakthrough victory happened there and kind of storybook fashion going one-two with the cars,” Bomarito said in a prerace Zoom call. “It was amazing, but Watkins Glen is just a phenomenal race track.

“It’s just an unbelievable facility and our cars - prototype cars, cars with the higher horsepower, a lot of downforce - they just loved that place.”

During their streak, all three drivers in this week’s lineup had a chance to visit Victory Lane. Tincknell and Bomarito’s win at the Glen was soon followed by another at Road America. Jarvis won at Mosport.

Through four races in 2021, Mazda is seeking their first win of the season. They’ve shown speed in every race, however, and came closest to victory in the Twelve Hours of Sebring with a runner-up finish for all three drivers.

Mazda finished third in the 24 Hours of Daytona and in the Acura Sports Car Challenge at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, where they also led the field to green from the pole. Their lowest finish of the season came at the Raceway at Belle Isle in Detroit when they crossed under the checkers fourth, but they started on the outside of the front row and showed promise during the weekend.

“Last year, (the Glen) was a big miss off the calendar,” Tincknell said. “I think everyone enjoys going there and certainly, very good memories for Mazda Motorsports, as you said in your prelude. It was a big moment in 2019 to get the first win for the prototype program in a long time. Obviously, we’re very motivated to go back there. It’s a big part of the championship now being two races back-to-back. Jonathan and I are defending the Six Hour race and then the next weekend as well, obviously, the WeatherTech 240 – we won that at Daytona last year, too.

“In a prototype around Watkins Glen, it doesn’t really get much better to be honest. That always does shock you the first few laps – how a corner you think is going to be third gear is fifth gear. It’s just incredible, you have to readapt your horizons a little bit.”

Preparation for the Sahlen’s Six Hour race this year has mostly been done on simulators. And while the drivers remarked on how accurate those sims have become, there is no substitute for real life conditions. Tracks change over the years - and in the Northeast with its harsh winters - conditions can change a lot.

That puts a premium on building adjustability into the car and getting the most out of the limited practice available to drivers and teams. With only one car, the team cannot try multiple setups spread across two entries like they could in 2019.

“I think certainly Mid-Ohio we didn’t roll off the truck in a window we would have liked to have been,” Jarvis said. “I thought Detroit was much better, but I think over the years, we’re very methodical in the way that we work through the sessions and we were constantly improving the car. And I think somewhere, like Detroit, we just got better and better throughout the weekend. And we ended up with a very good race car.

“It’s certainly not an intention to start the first session off the pace. We’d much rather roll out and be the quickest car and progress from there, but it’s just the way things have played out so far this year. Like I said, I think we made a big step in Detroit. We expected Mid-Ohio to be a tough race. It was surprising how quick we actually ended up in qualifying and the race itself.”

The good news for Team Mazda is that back-to-back races are on tap at the same track. One week after the Six Hours of the Glen, IMSA will hold the WeatherTech 240 at the Glen.