Mazda’s Tristan Nunez said they cannot count Acura Team Penske out of the equation from race wins or the DPi championship battle, despite a challenging start to the season for the defending IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship-winning squad.
Three races into the season, the pair of Acura ARX-05s have yet to score a podium finish, with the No. 6 entry of reigning champions Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya sitting sixth in the title race, 11 points behind Nunez and co-driver Oliver Jarvis, who are in a tie for the lead of the standings with Wayne Taylor Racing’s Renger van Zande and Ryan Briscoe.
The No. 7 Team Penske Acura DPi pairing of Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves are a further 11 points behind in eighth, following a string of mechanical issues that have struck the usually-bulletproof organization.
Nunez, who has helped propel the Multimatic-run factory Mazda squad into its best-ever start of the season, believes the Penske entries could still have “something up their sleeve” as the WeatherTech Championship enters this weekend’s round at Road America.
It comes amid Balance of Performance changes to all three DPi manufacturers for Sunday’s two-hour and 40-minute race.
“You never really know what they’re up to,” Nunez said. “It’s a group of really smart individuals.
“Yeah, they’ve had a lot of bad luck in the first few races but I feel like they’ve always got something up their sleeve so it should be interesting to see how the chips fall in this race. It’s always exciting to see what they come up with.”
Last year’s race at Road America served as the impetuous for IMSA’s increased policing measures on BoP manipulation following allegations of at least one DPi team using code words to its drivers to withhold performance in the race.
IMSA made it illegal for teams to use “code(s), cipher(s), disguised, misleading, or otherwise secretive language to attempt to influence the BoP process” following multiple complaints post race.
“Last year at Road America they had lots of pace and they got a little creative with the race pace,” Nunez said of the Team Penske entries.
“We were within striking distance at the end of the race and it worked out for us. The 55 got the win and we completed the podium with a third.
“As long as we stay on top of what those guys are doing and make sure we cover them and watch them, then I think we’d be in a good position.
“But again, you never know what they’re planning and what they have going on behind the scenes.”
Despite the Penske uncertainty, Nunez said Mazda has to keep an eye on the entire field, including their current championship rivals as the ten-round DPi season nears the halfway mark.
“We have to put them into consideration but our main focus right now is running our race and scoring our points, and also seeing what the 10 car is doing because we’re tied on points with them,” he said.
“It’s a really competitive class so you have to look at everyone. It makes for really good racing. You can never count anyone out.
“We’ve learned that you have to watch everyone, even the guy that’s last.
“Last year the 5 car came out of nowhere and won at Long Beach. We have to watch the whole field and have a strategy that persists throughout the race. You can’t just stick to one game plan, which makes the racing interesting.”
Mazda Sebring Fuel Situation Explained
Jonathan Bomarito, co-driver of the No. 55 Mazda RT24-P, revealed that making a late-race stop for a splash of fuel would have put both Mazdas further down the finishing order in the last round at Sebring International Raceway.
The two cars ran out of fuel on the final lap of the Cadillac Grand Prix of Sebring, relegating the No. 77 car to fourth and Bomarito and Harry Tincknell to fifth after a likely podium finish for Jarvis and Nunez.
“We knew it was a gamble to stretch it to the end so both cars were saving fuel that whole stint-and-a-half, almost two stints,” Bomarito explained. “We knew it would be tight but we didn’t think it would have been that tight.
“The Cadillacs had a bit of a fuel advantage; they could go further than us. So we were watching them, trying to stay ahead of them but Harry and Olly were doing max fuel save with what they had to work with in the situation.
“The 77 was literally one corner away and we were probably three corners away so Harry had to do some coasting to get to the checkered.
“In the end it was the right decision.
“We would have lost an additional one to two spots if we would have done a last-lap splash for fuel. It was tight but in the end of the day it was the right decision.”
The Cadillac DPi-V.R has been given a 6-liter decrease in fuel capacity for Road America, although the Mazda will be down by 4 liters compared to the configuration it ran at Sebring, with no change to the Acura DPi.
“These two hour and forty minute races are a real challenge for the Mazdas because the capacity we are allowed doesn’t quite return a clean four stint, three stop race and so we either have to come in a fourth time and splash, or run a conservation strategy,” added Multimatic’s Larry Holt.
“We didn’t get a change in the rules dictated capacity this week so the strategy is going to be equally challenging at Road America, but we’ll be fully on top of it from the start.”