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Nunez, Bomarito deliver Mazda’s first Prototype podium in Detroit

Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix

Al Merion Padron

Mazda Motorsports finally secured its first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship podium with its Mazda Prototype, powered by the Mazda MZ-2.0T engine, at of all places, Belle Isle Park on the streets of Detroit.

Not bad considering the two drivers who banked the third place - Tristan Nunez and Jonathan Bomarito - were sidelined in Detroit last year as the then-No. 70 car now was temporarily parked while Mazda determined which engine would be in the back of the car. The team ran the SKYACTIV Diesel powerplant last year but also tested the gasoline-powered AER engine in the second half of the year in preparation for its presence this year.

Alas, both Mazdas stayed out of trouble on the streets of Detroit and following an early race collision between the Nos. 31 and 90 Corvette DPs from Action Express Racing and Visit Florida Racing, the path was opened for the Mazdas to bank two top-five positions and move into podium contention. The Mazdas stayed slightly ahead of the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda during the weekend, which had a mixed crew and a new driver with Katherine Legge making her team debut in place of John Pew, who was at Le Mans preparing for the Test Day.

It was a huge bounce back after a missed opportunity at Mazda’s “spiritual” home track of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey in May. Nunez had the pole in the No. 55 car but with an oil pump failure sidelining the sister No. 70 car of Tom Long and Joel Miller, then a bad pit stop and a spin hitting the No. 55, the car was resigned to fourth place.

Saturday in Detroit the Nos. 55 and 70 cars ended a better third and fourth.

“It’s pretty unbelievable. I can’t believe it happened that way,” Nunez told NBC Sports post-race. “We ran our race with no mistakes and a great pit stop. We weren’t gonna make the same mistake as at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. So it’s learn and move on. The guys gave us a great race car. It was great to get through traffic. This is what happened. First podium, and there’s many more to come.”

Bomarito explained why this result was so surprising given the physical nature of the track.

“The Detroit track is just incredibly bumpy for our cars. It’s very physically demanding, not merely because of the G-forces but the forces going down your spine and through your neck,” Bomarito said. “There are a lot of hard-hitting bumps that take a toll on you. You really have to be focused to get through those physical issues. But when you’re on the podium, you always feel a little better!”

With more flowing road courses at Watkins Glen International and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park coming up, the Mazdas could be positioned for greater success at tracks that suit their car better.

“There’s some great tracks coming up for this package. We got our first podium out of the way at a place we never thought we’d get it. It should be great momentum for the rest of the season,” Nunez said.

Follow @TonyDiZinno