Nunez and Bomarito. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Nunez: Revised Mazda ‘so confidence-inspiring’ after Daytona test

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Mazda Team Joest undertook its first official test on U.S. soil with the heavily revised Mazda RT24-P at Daytona International Speedway this afternoon, with four Mazda regulars behind the wheel.

Full-season drivers Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez and Joel Miller were joined today by Mazda endurance driver Spencer Pigot at the first U.S. running of the updated car, which has had extensive revisions now under the Joest partnership announced earlier this summer.

Nunez received a bulk of the driving work today as a proper 22nd birthday present, and couldn’t hide his enthusiasm for the updated car run on the Riley Multimatic base chassis.

“It feels completely different now. It’s so confidence-inspiring to see the changes made to how it is on track. It’s a completely different car,” Nunez told NBC Sports.

The car was a lot more responsive and predictable to handle at the 3.56-mile Daytona “roval,” Nunez said.

“It seemed like the car was a lot more compliant. It’s easier to drive. It wasn’t doing anything ‘evil,'” Nunez admitted.

“You knew what it’d do, and it did it every time. At times before, you didn’t know what you were getting yourself into. Now it’s a lot more confidence-inspiring.”

While the initial testing of the revised Mazda had been done in Germany at Hockenheim, and a further test got done at Donington Park by Bomarito shortly thereafter, this marked the first time the fusion of both the Mazda and Joest entities were running together on U.S. soil.

That meant the respective entities have had more time to mesh and gel, beyond the team-bonding and team-building that has occurred earlier this year.

“They’re a top level team and they understand that one of the biggest parts of being a team is getting to know everyone on a personal level,” Nunez said of Joest.

“We’re all working with each other to the max capabilities. We’re all getting along great. And they all knew it was my birthday, so that was a great start! We’re building trust and friendship. That’s exactly what needs to be done.

“If you talked to John (Doonan, Mazda Motorsports chief), the smile on my face, was from ear to ear – that alone was seeing what how hard everyone has worked, what they’ve done, it’s the first real official test of the new setup. It gives us a lot of hope leading into the season and finishing on top.”

The test is the first in a two-day test at Daytona this week, with more to come tomorrow.

“They made a good plan of attack so we all got decent time. But I got a ton today, birthday boy and all,” Nunez deadpanned.

Mazda wasn’t alone testing today, as per IMSA, Audi also tested its new R8 LMS GT4 car this afternoon.

While Mazda has not confirmed its driver lineup for 2018, it’d be a surprise if at least two of Mazda’s 2017 drivers aren’t retained in full-season roles next year, if not more.

Photos and quick videos from Mazda of today’s test are below.

Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
Chris Owens/IndyCar
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

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“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”