The last time a team operated by Joest Racing appeared at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, it came away with a 1-2.
The year was 2013, the final season for the American Le Mans Series, and the Joest-operated Audi factory LMP1 team dominated the proceedings. The driver lineup in the winning car consisted of Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler and Oliver Jarvis.
While Treluyer isn’t entered in this year’s race, and Fassler has since returned, and won, with Corvette Racing in the GT Le Mans class, this week marks the first race back at Sebring for the Joest team, now fielding the two-car Mazda Team Joest program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype class, and for Jarvis.
“I have great memories of the victory in 2013 as it was my first LMP1 victory for Audi,” recalls Jarvis, who will share the No. 77 Mazda RT24-P with Tristan Nunez and Rene Rast this weekend.
“It was an extremely tough race against our sister car who at the time was running the latest spec car.
“Early on in the race, we sustained damage to the floor so we drove the majority of the race with a damaged car and were concerned that we might have to box to repair the floor, which would have cost us victory. Fortunately, the car held on and we managed to win by a small margin.”
Sebring also holds fond memories for Mazda Team Joest Managing Director Ralf Juttner, who has been a part of four previous race victories with the team. They’ll go for five in Saturday’s 66th running of the race.
“We are actually very excited to come back to Sebring,” Juttner said. “It was one of the races we missed most since we couldn’t run there with the LMP1 prototypes anymore. The last time we’ve been there was 2013.
“Since then, we have never been able to race there. We did some testing there, but that has been our last race. It’s really the racetrack that the whole team missed a lot.”
And while the legendary, 3.74-mile circuit hasn’t changed very much since 2013, a whole lot else has, particularly in the Prototype racing discipline that has become the Joest team’s specialty.
“Obviously, it’s a completely different class of racing,” Juttner said. “We are now running the IMSA DPis and LMP2s.
“The last time we were there, it was with the LMP1s, it was those hybrid monsters if you want to call them that. It was factory competition the past few years we ran there.
“Now, it’s a whole bunch of really good cars, factories and teams that are coming up there, whether it’s Penske and Acura or the Cadillacs and Wayne Taylor, the Nissans, not to forget all the LM P2s. I think it’s a much broader and wider field of competitive cars, to be honest.”
And while the competition is stiff, there may be no race or racetrack where the familiar axiom, to finish first, first you must finish, applies. This track, and this race, is extremely tough.
“Sebring is a very unique track,” Juttner said. “By its nature, it’s very demanding to the material and also to the drivers, but especially to the material. It’s not for nothing that we, in the past with Audi, used it as a pure preparation for Le Mans as well.
“We did the Twelve Hours and then we stayed a few days longer and tried to continue with the race cars to put more miles on them, because something that lasts 12 hours or even more at Sebring, normally, has a good chance to last a 24-hour race as well. Looking at that, nothing has really changed.”
All involved with the Mazda Team Joest program head into this weekend’s race with great anticipation, looking to put a disappointing season-opener in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona behind them. They’ve definitely got history on their side.
“I would love to take that as a good omen,” Juttner said. “It will obviously very difficult for us to repeat, but we will definitely go try.”
“I wouldn’t say there is a secret to their success,” added Jarvis on the Joest team’s performance at Sebring. “It’s just a case of hard work and great preparation that means they always put themselves in the best possible situation to win, especially at a track like Sebring.
“I think the fact they have competed at the top level of motorsport for so long means they know how to handle the pressure. When things don’t go right, they are incredible at reacting and solving unforseen issues.”
We’ll see how well they react this Saturday to the inevitable issues that Sebring will present. If they stay true to form, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them standing atop the podium once more.