Olivier Pla says Mazda has “nothing to hide” after completing a dominant and record-setting Roar Before the Rolex 24.
The Frenchman unofficially became the quickest driver around the Daytona International Speedway oval/road course, clocking a 1:33.324 lap time in Sunday afternoon’s qualification for pit box and garage selections.
Pla’s time was three-tenths quicker than co-driver Oliver Jarvis’ 1:33.685 pole time from last year’s Rolex 24 that broke a 26-year track qualifying record.
With year-to-year gains made in the Multimatic-built and AER-powered DPi package, as well as updated Michelin tires for 2020, Pla feels they head into the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opener with “more confidence” than ever before.
Mazda Team Joest topped four of the seven test sessions over the course of the weekend in addition to Pla’s Roar pole time.
“We have the same car as last year, like everybody, so we have nothing to hide,” Pla said. “The strategy was to push every time and that’s what we’ve been doing from FP1.
“Every year it seems to be faster. But it’s a combination of things. We have a new Michelin tire for this year so we were expecting to go faster anyways.”
Improvements in reliability, most notably after a challenging Rolex 24 last year that saw the two Joest-run entries retire by the 13th hour, has Pla bullish on their chances this time around.
Mazda is coming off endurance tests at both at Motorland Aragon in October and Daytona in December.
“Twenty-four hour races have always been a concern for us in the past,” Pla said. “Last year we had some small problems that cost us the race.
“We were in a position to do a good result I think in the end.
“The team, Mazda and AER have been working very hard on engine reliability. We did the two endurance tests and we were really focused on that during the winter.
“I think we have a fantastic group of people working on this project. We are making steps every time.
“We hope that it’s going in the right direction and we want to be able to be able to fight for the top position the last few hours.”
Cosgrove: Rolex 24 Win One of the “Things Left to Achieve”
Mazda Motorsports director Nelson Cosgrove believes an overall win in the Florida endurance classic is one of the boxes that still needs to be checked by the Japanese manufacturer.
The program claimed its elusive first overall victory in last year’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, which kickstarted a three-race win streak.
“I think that’s one of the things that’s left to achieve with this program is winning one of these longer events,” Cosgrove told Sportscar365.
“These are the crown jewels. The Rolex , Sebring, Petit… it’s important for this program to win one of those at some point.
“I hope we can take advantage of the opportunities when we have them.
“IMSA and the way the racing happens is really about taking advantage of the opportunities and executing when you have those opportunities.”
Pla: ‘No Difference’ in Swap to No. 77 Car
The former Ford GT factory driver, who is returning for the Michelin Endurance Cup races, said the switch from the No. 55 Mazda to the No. 77 entry alongside full-season drivers Jarvis and Tristan Nunez, hasn’t changed his approach.
“Even if I changed cars, it’s not really new,” Pla said. “I’ve known Oliver and Tristan from the past, especially from last year.
“It doesn’t matter about the 55 lineup of 77 lineup, we all have a good relationship.
“To be honest, for me it doesn’t make any difference or change my approach of how I perform and do my job. Everything is really good.
“There’s a good atmosphere in the team. Everyone is focused and working in the same way. At the moment, it’s perfect.”