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.

It’s official: Laguna Seca to host INDYCAR for at least next 3 seasons

Laguna Seca, from the 1991 CART race there. Photo: Getty Images
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INDYCAR made it official today: the 2019 season-ending race will move a couple of hours down the Northern California coast to WeatherTechRaceway Laguna Seca.

Sonoma Raceway, which has hosted INDYCAR since 2005 – including the last five season-ending races (that includes this year’s upcoming season finale) – will not be part of next season’s schedule.

Earlier today, the Monterey County (Calif.) Board of Supervisors, which oversees operation of the iconic racing facility, approved a three-year agreement with INDYCAR to host next year’s season finale on Sept. 20-22, 2019.

The remaining two race dates for 2020 and 2021 will be announced later, according to an INDYCAR media release.

The 2.238-mile permanent road course previously hosted CART and Champ Car World Series Indy car races from 1983 through 2004, including the season-ending races from 1989 through 1996.

“I can’t imagine a more attractive destination location for INDYCAR’s season finale,” Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said in a statement. “Monterey is a place people want to be, and we will bring all of our guests. I think it’s a great choice for us.”

Bobby Rahal, former CART/CCWS driver and current INDYCAR team co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, won four of the prior 22 previous Indy car races at Laguna Seca, all consecutively (1984-87).

“It’s great news, but I might be biased,” Rahal said. “I personally won four Indy car races there and won my first Can-Am race there. Our Indy car team won with Bryan Herta and Max Papis and our sports car team won IMSA races there.

“So I would almost bet you that Laguna Seca is the site of more victories for me as a driver and team owner combined of any track I’ve ever raced on.

“There is nothing better than the Monterey Bay area, and it’s a great circuit that always drew great crowds. So I’m thrilled to have Indy car racing coming back to a circuit I love so much. We will put on a good show, for sure.”

In addition to Rahal as a multiple winner, two-time winners at Laguna Seca were fellow current INDYCAR team co-owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta, INDYCAR on NBCSN analyst Paul Tracy, Danny Sullivan and Patrick Carpentier.

“The return of INDYCAR to its spiritual road racing home of Laguna Seca is a tremendous honor and testament to the appeal of Monterey, and through the support of the County of Monterey will provide a significant economic benefit to our area businesses,” said Timothy McGrane, CEO of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, “We are looking forward to creating more memories in race fans’ minds like Bobby Rahal’s four consecutive Indy car wins from 1984-1987, Mario Andretti’s farewell race in 1994 and Alex Zanardi’s last-lap overtaking of Bryan Herta in the Corkscrew in 1996 that simply became known as ‘The Pass.'”

NBC Sports Group has secured exclusive domestic television and digital media rights for INDYCAR races beginning in 2019. Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, agreed that Laguna Seca is an ideal venue to close out the schedule.

“We commend INDYCAR for returning to Laguna Seca, a historic track and an inspired place for the 2019 season finale,” Miller said. “The 2019 season will be our first as the exclusive media rights partner of INDYCAR, and we could not be more pleased to broadcast the championship from beautiful Monterrey.”

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