Despite still being part of the Mazda family in 2021, Tristan Nunez says he’s actively seeking additional drives in sports car racing in order to “stay fresh” ahead of a hopeful return to a two-car DPi operation in the future.
The 25-year-old Floridan has been the odd driver out in Mazda’s reduction to a single RT24-P for next year, which will be piloted by Harry Tincknell and Oliver Jarvis for the full season and Jonathan Bomarito for the Michelin Endurance Cup races.
While Nunez will complete the lineup for the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, it is currently the only scheduled race for the former Prototype Challenge champion next year.
“2020 has been a really tough year overall for everyone in all industries and walks of life,” Nunez told Sportscar365. “I’m very blessed to be where I am, to be driving race cars. It could be a lot worse.
“I’d be lying, as a racer, if I said I wasn’t disappointed about everything that’s going on and the decision.
“I trust Mazda and they definitely have a plan forward. They could have easily said, ‘No we’re not taking you for next year.’
“They do value me, which is great. It’s good to see that.”
In addition to his confirmed drive in the Rolex 24, Nunez said his role with the manufacturer will likely focus largely on vehicle dynamic development along with sim work at Multimatic.
However, the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race-winner said he’s actively looking at adding a racing program to his Mazda commitments.
“Personally my goal is to still be in a car,” Nunez said. “Racing is a very tough industry. If you miss a year or two, it’s easy to get forgotten.
“Hopefully Mazda will keep me busy, in a car one way or another.
“It’s a tough year trying to look for extra work. There’s a lot of teams going away or scaling back and a lot of top-notch drivers looking for rides.”
Nunez said he’s “very open” to possibilities although indicated his contract does not allow him to race against Mazdas, which would rule him out of another DPi drive.
“I’m a driver; l’ll drive anything,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a GT car or prototype, whatever it is my goal is to help Mazda out because they’ve been good to me all these years.
“But also [the goal is] to stay fresh and keep driving so that way when — fingers crossed — they do go back to two cars I’ll be ready to go.
“They’re fully supportive of me doing other stuff, whether that’s SRO, GT, LMP2…
“It’s not been set in stone yet what it exactly looks like but I think they will be supportive in anything because they do care about my future and my career and I think they definitely want to keep me around.
“[Hopefully] we’ll find a common ground and compromise.”
Nunez “Learning the Ropes” of Driver Management
Considered the poster child for Mazda’s ladder system, Nunez admitted it’s been a challenge seeking additional opportunities due to his longstanding relationship with the Japanese manufacturer.
“In my unique situation, I came out of karting and was straight in the Mazda ladder,” he said. “I got my opportunity from John Doonan at a very young age, at 17 years old, he gave me a full-time ride.
“I’ve been with them ever since. I just turned 25 and all I’ve known is Mazda.
“They’ve been loyal to me and I’ve been loyal to them so it’s been hard to make those [new] connections.
“Since the news came out it’s been a big learning experience for me, having to go out and pick up the phone, not sure who to call or the right people to call.
“I’m learning the ropes. It’s a different situation for me to be in but I try to look at the positives in everything.
“It’s a good learning experience for me but at the same time you go back to Mazda’s loyalty and it could have been a lot worse.
“For them to keep me on board and to be working behind the scenes, I’m really fortunate and lucky to have that.”
Ryan Myrehn contributed to this report