One of the encouraging stories to have come from the Roar Before the Rolex 24 is the rise of Mazda, which has been at the top end of the time sheets all weekend with its updated LMP2 contender.
Featuring the new gasoline-powered MZ-2.0T engine, the pair of Lola-based prototypes have gotten a new lease on life, which has given the entire SpeedSource-run factory squad a new level of energy, according to driver Jonathan Bomarito.
“We flashed up to P1 on the time sheets a few times and seeing the crew guys and engineers’ eyes light up is special,” Bomarito told Sportscar365. “We haven’t had that for years and all their hard work is paying off.
“It’s just [testing]. There’s no trophy or Rolex watch at the end of it, but that is a small reward for all of their hard work that has gone into this.”
Bomarito, along with co-driver Tristan Nunez, have played a key part in the development of the new AER-tuned 2.0-liter turbo powerplant, which began testing last year and has collected more than 4,000 miles heading into this weekend’s official pre-season test.
While most of the testing has been done out of the public eye, the Roar has put Mazda’s extreme makeover in the spotlight for the first time.
“Our car from last year sat out a few races so Tristan and I have been doing a lot of testing and development with the new MZ-2.0T engine,” Bomarito said.
“We had a little bit more of an understanding of where we were going to be to showcase that to the competitors and public and see how good this team and car is. The speed and capability is pretty cool.”
The pace has certainty been there. With the 2nd and 4th quickest times overall of the weekend so far, the Mazdas have been among only six cars to have broken the elusive 1:40 lap time barrier at Daytona.
Bomarito has been pleased with the progress made over the weekend, noting the importance of putting in the mileage now, rather than in the sessions during race week.
“We’ve been doing a lot of fuel mileage stuff, trying to collect data for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “We’ve been working on chassis setup and really just getting the car comfortable for all three drivers, in both cars.
“It’s about getting everybody ready so we can feel confident and show up to the race, not do a lot of mileage on everything and be ready.
“Now is your testing for the race. If you’re trying to figure out the car the day before the race, it’s too late.
“There’s so many pieces that have to come into play for a 24-hour race and we’re getting there. We’re close.”
While hopes are high heading into race week, the former Rolex 24 class winner has remained realistic for the new package’s debut race.
“This is a tough race,” Bomarito said. “Twenty four hours is very hard on the crew, the drivers and the components of the car.
“We have done a lot of testing mileage and feel very confident. But anything can happen.
“But seeing our pace at this test… We have a different mindset coming into this year so if we don’t have a shot to be on a podium, we’d be disappointed.
“There’s been a lot of talk about this package and this car for a long time but this is still our first race; it hasn’t even done a race yet.
“This is our first race with this engine; we need to get through it and learn with it. But we do expect big things to come in the year.”