Photo courtesy of IMSA

Mazda Motorsports partners with Team Joest from 2018

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A rather stunning, surprise announcement has occurred on Tuesday morning with Mazda Motorsports confirming a new partnership with Team Joest, the longtime successful prototype entrant that was available following the end of Audi Sport’s LMP1 program at 2016.

Joest replaces SpeedSource as Mazda’s factory entrant for its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship program, starting next year.

This follows reports of Joest’s exploring an entry earlier this year, with Ralf Juttner among others on site in Daytona for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The full release is below.

Mazda Motorsports begins a new era today with the creation of Mazda Team Joest, which will be the factory Mazda Prototype race team competing in the North American IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship under Daytona Prototype international (DPi) rules. The team will make its racing debut at the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

Joest Racing is one of the most successful endurance sports car teams in history, with 16 victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans plus multiple wins in prestigious North American races such as the Rolex 24 at Daytona, ten wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring and six titles at Petit Le Mans. Joest found much of its success as the factory team for Audi from 1999 until the manufacturer ended the program after the 2016 season. Prior to that, Joest Racing had multiple Le Mans victories with Porsche, and was the factory team for Opel in DTM, the German touring car series. The German company was created in 1978 by then-factory Porsche driver Reinhold Joest.

Mazda’s racing heritage includes being the only Asian manufacturer to win overall at Le Mans, plus 22 class victories at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, 13 class wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring and 11 major season championships. According to IMSA statistics, Mazda is the third-most successful manufacturer in the history of North American professional sports car racing, powering 155 major-series victories.

“Since Mazda first took to the race track in 1964, our ‘Never Stop Challenging’ spirit means that every time we race, we strive for victories and championships,” said Masahiro Moro, president and CEO of Mazda North American Operations (MNAO) and managing executive officer, Mazda Motor Corporation (MMC). “The creation of Mazda Team Joest provides us a unique opportunity to partner with a team with proven success in the prototype ranks, and gives us the best chance to return Mazda to the top step of the podium. I welcome the Joest family to the Mazda family, and I’m convinced that, together, we will write many more pages in the book of Mazda racing successes.”

“We are excited and proud about this new opportunity with Mazda,” said Ralf Jüttner, managing director of Joest Racing. “Mazda has such a long tradition in motorsport and, especially in America, has created a huge platform for racing enthusiasts. For us, this is not only a return to American racing, which we have always enjoyed, but also great news to the big group of our Japanese fans, who have always warmly embraced us.”

John Doonan, director of motorsports for Mazda North American Operations, recognizes the new pairing as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“This is an important moment in Mazda Motorsports history as we align our brand’s top-level sports car racing program with one of the best sports car teams of all time,” said Doonan. “What Mr. Joest, Ralf Jüttner and the entire Joest Racing organization have accomplished is not likely to ever be matched. We are very excited to work with them to put Mazda in victory lane and to strive for more championship trophies, adding to the substantial Mazda and Joest Racing legacies in the years ahead.”

With the full focus turning to 2018, Mazda’s current Prototype team will not compete in the three remaining IMSA races this season.

“I want to thank our long-time partners at SpeedSource Race Engineering and owner, Sylvain Tremblay,” said Doonan. “We accomplished a great deal with their organization at all levels of the sport for more than two decades. They are a perfect example of a team that has grown through our Mazda system: from grassroots club racing, to Rolex 24 race-winning efforts in GT and then on to the Prototype program. Friendships in our sport run deep and we certainly don’t see that changing.”

Mazda Team Joest will soon begin testing the Mazda RT24-P in preparation for next season. The production-inspired bodywork treatment developed in concert with Mazda designers will remain, as will the turbocharged four-cylinder, 2.0-liter inline Mazda MZ-2.0T engine which produces approximately 600 horsepower, developed by Advanced Engine Research (AER).

Multimatic Motorsports, of Markham, Ontario, Canada, which was heavily involved in the creation of the Mazda RT24-P, has taken the lead to refine and improve the chassis, and will work closely with Joest in testing and simulation work. The four current Mazda Prototype drivers will participate in the testing and development, but the 2018 driver lineup is yet to be determined.

Joest Racing, based in Wald-Michelbach, Germany, will establish a North American headquarters for the race team in the Atlanta area.

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

Photo: IndyCar
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After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

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