Photo: Mazda Motorsports

Nunez, Bomarito deliver Mazda’s first Prototype podium in Detroit

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Mazda Motorsports finally secured its first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship podium with its Mazda Prototype, powered by the Mazda MZ-2.0T engine, at of all places, Belle Isle Park on the streets of Detroit.

Not bad considering the two drivers who banked the third place – Tristan Nunez and Jonathan Bomarito – were sidelined in Detroit last year as the then-No. 70 car now was temporarily parked while Mazda determined which engine would be in the back of the car. The team ran the SKYACTIV Diesel powerplant last year but also tested the gasoline-powered AER engine in the second half of the year in preparation for its presence this year.

Alas, both Mazdas stayed out of trouble on the streets of Detroit and following an early race collision between the Nos. 31 and 90 Corvette DPs from Action Express Racing and Visit Florida Racing, the path was opened for the Mazdas to bank two top-five positions and move into podium contention. The Mazdas stayed slightly ahead of the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda during the weekend, which had a mixed crew and a new driver with Katherine Legge making her team debut in place of John Pew, who was at Le Mans preparing for the Test Day.

It was a huge bounce back after a missed opportunity at Mazda’s “spiritual” home track of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey in May. Nunez had the pole in the No. 55 car but with an oil pump failure sidelining the sister No. 70 car of Tom Long and Joel Miller, then a bad pit stop and a spin hitting the No. 55, the car was resigned to fourth place.

Saturday in Detroit the Nos. 55 and 70 cars ended a better third and fourth.

“It’s pretty unbelievable. I can’t believe it happened that way,” Nunez told NBC Sports post-race. “We ran our race with no mistakes and a great pit stop. We weren’t gonna make the same mistake as at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. So it’s learn and move on. The guys gave us a great race car. It was great to get through traffic. This is what happened. First podium, and there’s many more to come.”

Bomarito explained why this result was so surprising given the physical nature of the track.

“The Detroit track is just incredibly bumpy for our cars. It’s very physically demanding, not merely because of the G-forces but the forces going down your spine and through your neck,” Bomarito said. “There are a lot of hard-hitting bumps that take a toll on you. You really have to be focused to get through those physical issues. But when you’re on the podium, you always feel a little better!”

With more flowing road courses at Watkins Glen International and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park coming up, the Mazdas could be positioned for greater success at tracks that suit their car better.

“There’s some great tracks coming up for this package. We got our first podium out of the way at a place we never thought we’d get it. It should be great momentum for the rest of the season,” Nunez said.

‘One and Only’ Kyle Larson wins Outlaws opener at Knoxville Raceway

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Paul Arch/World of Outlaws
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The magic of dirt racing wins for Kyle Larson continued Thursday night at Knoxville Raceway, where he scored his third consecutive World of Outlaws victory at the famed half-mile track to open “The One and Only.”

After starting 10th, Larson sliced through the field and passed pole-sitter Logan Schuchart to lead the final eight laps in the No. 57 of car owner Paul Silva.

“Just an awesome race,” Larson said after earning $10,000 for his second consecutive NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series victory (after winning at Pevely, Missouri, last Saturday), his sixth Outlaws victory this season and 14th of his career.

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“I was able to track Logan down and hit the bottom really well in (turns) 1 and 2 and got a run on him.  It felt like I needed to take advantage of that before we got to heavier traffic and slid him and felt some contact. So, glad to see him not in the wall or anything like that. Just, hard work there. Heartbeat is up again.”

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Kyle Larson scored his sixth World of Outlaws victory Thursday (Trent Gower/World of Outlaws).

It was the fourth Knoxville victory this year for Larson, who swept a World of Outlaws doubleheader weekend June 12-13 at the Sprint Car Captial of the World. He has more than 30 victories this year in sprint cars and midgets.

The One and Only continues Friday night with another $10,000 feature race that will set the starting lineup for Saturday’s Brownells Capitani Classic, which pays $50,000 to win.

The event is the Outlaws’ richest purse of 2020 and subs in for the annual Knoxville Nationals, which was canceled for COVID-19 concerns. Larson, a two-time Knoxville Nationals runner-up, has said winning The One and Only would be on the same as Knoxville’s signature event because of its tough three-day format.

Through the first of three nights, Schuchart and Larson are tied for second in The One and Only points standings, which factor in qualifying, heats, dash and feature races. Aaron Reutzel, an All Star Circuit of Champions stalwart who finished third Thursday, leads with 430 points.

A crash in Thursday’s 25-lap feature eliminated past Outlaws champions Brad Sweet and Donny Schatz after Cory Eliason spun in front of Sweet in Turn 1 to start the wreck, which also collected Sweet’s teammate, James McFadden. Sweet and Schatz finished outside the top 20, which moved Schuchart into the points lead for the 2020 season.

Schuchart still seemed slightly miffed after finishing second to Larson.

“As the race went on, I felt like I wasn’t hitting my marks as good,” he said. “I would have liked to of had a little bit better of a race with Kyle there. I wish his slide job was a little better there, but he’s got a reputation to live up to. That’s where you let other people make the rules and maybe we’ll get him next time.”


RESULTS

NOS Energy Drink Feature (25 Laps) – 1. 57-Kyle Larson [10]; 2. 1S-Logan Schuchart [1]; 3. 87-Aaron Reutzel [2]; 4. 2-Carson Macedo [24]; 5. 41-David Gravel [6]; 6. 21-Brian Brown [7]; 7. 71-Spencer Bayston [3]; 8. 18-Gio Scelzi [15]; 9. 12N-Joey Saldana [5]; 10. 5-Ian Madsen [19]; 11. 17A-Austin McCarl [21]; 12. 1A-Jacob Allen [11]; 13. 7BC-Tyler Courtney [16]; 14. 7S-Jason Sides [20]; 15. 24-Rico Abreu [22]; 16. 4-Terry McCarl [13]; 17. 2KS-Brooke Tatnell [18]; 18. O9-Matt Juhl [23]; 19. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild [25]; 20. 83-Daryn Pittman [9]; 21. 11K-Kraig Kinser [17]; 22. 15-Donny Schatz [8]; 23. 26-Cory Eliason [4]; 24. 49-Brad Sweet [12]; 25. 9-James McFadden [14]; Lap Leaders: Logan Schuchart 1-17, Kyle Larson 18-25; KSE Hard Charger Award: 2-Carson Macedo[+20]

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Kyle Larson celebrated with his family and team after the first night of The One and Only (Trent Gower/World of Outlaws).