Two of the relative underdog teams in the Prototype field at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona – the DeltaWing Racing Cars and SpeedSource Mazda teams – overachieved compared to expectations.
In the 18-car field, these two along with the all-gentlemen Highway to Help squads were probably the longest shots to win entering the week. But while the Highway team used a standard Riley DP with Dinan power, both the DeltaWing and Mazda used this year’s Rolex 24 as a testing opportunity for new technologies.
The lightweight, radical DeltaWing was back in its first 24-hour race since the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans, the race the open-top version of the car made its official debut. But the difference this time around was drastic: an entirely new operating team, crew, car (a coupe version) and tire partner (Continental) made for several new elements as the team took to Daytona for the first time.
The team’s two 2013 full-season drivers, Andy Meyrick and Katherine Legge, were joined by Caterham F1 reserve Alexander Rossi and 2013 Indy Lights runner-up Gabby Chaves in the distinctive, chrome coupe. Rossi commented on the driveability of the car compared to his usual F1 chassis.
“To get the performance out of it, you have to drive it different than a normal car,” Rossi told MotorSportsTalk at Daytona. “The visual references and the like aren’t difficult, but to pull a lap time out, yeah, you have to be a bit creative.”
Rossi, a former Formula BMW champion, was making his first U.S. race start in five or six years. Legge qualified the car eighth overall – ahead of all the P2 chassis – and top of the ALMS 2013 cars making the switch into the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
Myriad issues plagued the team throughout the race, notably gearbox, a fuel pump and a small off by Chaves, but in more than 16 hours the car ran 288 laps and more than 1,000 miles. It was the longest outing yet for the Élan-powered prototype, in the team led by managing partner Don Panoz and president/COO Al Speyer.
“First of all, the crew did a terrific job to keep the car going,” Legge said. “This is the longest we’ve ever gone and when I was out on the track, the car was great. Very balanced, very good in traffic. It’s hard not to finish but we know that we are heading in the right direction and it’s just a matter of continuing what we’re doing.”
Mazda could also take positives away from its debut with the Multimatic-built pair of SKYACTIV-D diesel P2 coupes, in a purely learning exercise and something where pace was not going to be achieved from the off.
The two coupes – driven by Mazda veterans Sylvain Tremblay, Tom Long, James Hinchcliffe, Joel Miller, Tristan Nunez and Tristan Vautier – plugged away for more than 2,800 miles between them and came up just short of finishing. It represented a major step forward compared to the GX-run Mazda6 diesels that raced Daytona last year, when all three cars retired within the first six hours.
The No. 07 (Miller/Nunez/Vautier) car came within an hour of the finish before an oil-pump belt failure caused a loss of oil pressure. The No. 70 car (the other three) covered over 1,300 miles before it was retired due to overheating caused by a clogged radiator.
Where the car succeeded was in efficiency, with a 35-percent advantage in range from the SKYACTIV-D engine. The car also has a high “clean factor,” using a renewable synthetic diesel fuel supplied by Dynamic Fuels. Mazda Motorsports engineers will now address the radiator and belt issues that sidelined their cars this weekend, and turn their attention to dialing in even more speed as the season progresses.
“Given the limited time we’ve had to develop the new Mazda SKYACTIV-D Clean Diesel prototype, we are very satisfied with the progress our team has achieved,” said John Doonan, Director, Mazda Motorsports. “That said, this is a multi-year development program and we won’t be happy until we start winning.”
Of note here, the Élan engine in the DeltaWing is Mazda MZR-R based, but is not a Mazda block. Either way, both teams press ahead, and seeing development between them will be interesting to monitor as the rest of the TUDOR Championship rolls on.