Photo courtesy of IMSA

Mazda Team Joest adds Jarvis, Tincknell, Rast to DPi lineup

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The new-look Mazda Team Joest, which will feature an “evo” version of its Multimatic chassis as the Mazda RT24-P, has revealed its driver lineup for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.

As has long been expected, Mazda will blend a fusion of European drivers with either an Audi pedigree or lineage along with some Mazda legacy drivers.

Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez and Spencer Pigot stay on from the Mazda fold for 2018. Bomarito and Nunez continue as full-season drivers with Pigot, who will become an IndyCar full-time driver for the first time in 2018, confirmed for the endurance races.

26-29 January, 2017, Daytona Beach, Florida USA /55, Mazda DPi, P, Tristan Nunez, Jonathan Bomarito, Spencer Pigot /©2017, Barry Cantrell/ LAT Photo USA

Pigot has starred more often than not in his handful of Mazda Prototype starts and is the only IndyCar driver who’ll stay part of the lineup next year, which means James Hinchcliffe will have to look elsewhere for additional drives at Daytona. All three have been part of testing; Nunez hailed the revised chassis after testing at Daytona last month.

The changes come with the Europeans added in. Oliver Jarvis and Harry Tincknell join up as full-season drivers, with Rene Rast confirmed as the other endurance driver. Jarvis and Rast both raced for Audi Sport Team Joest in LMP1 and Rast, the eternally rapid German, won the DTM title this year in his rookie season. Jarvis balanced a dual role between Bentley’s Continental GT3 program and an LMP2 drive with the Jota Sport-run Jackie Chan DC Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship this season, and Tincknell has raced the last two years in the FIA WEC with the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT outfit. The young Englishman is Audi legend Allan McNish’s protege, and has prototype experience from Jota’s previous LMP2 chassis as far back as 2014.

This round of changes means longtime Mazda drivers Joel Miller and Tom Long won’t be back in the prototype lineup, but both have expanded their horizons in other areas with the manufacturer. Miller has been a driver coach on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires while Long’s family team, Long Road Racing, builds the new Global Mazda MX-5 Cup car.

Bomarito and Rast were linked in 2017, Rast having driven for VISIT FLORIDA Racing at Daytona and helping that team take the Riley Multimatic Mk. 30 Gibson chassis – on which the Mazda DPi body runs – to a debut podium at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. With Rast unavailable for Motul Petit Le Mans and Mazda having halted its race program to focus on testing, Bomarito filled in for him at VISIT FLORIDA Racing there.

“Whether you’re a young driver or an accomplished driver, the dream is to align yourself with a manufacturer,” said Bomarito. “So, I can check that box with Mazda. Second, it’s best to be with a good manufacturer, and I check that box with Mazda. Look at their involvement in motorsports history. It’s a really hard industry to find stability, so I’m glad to be with one of the heavy hitters in IMSA. And now, to be aligned with a team like Joest and their history with the sport, it’s great.”

Oliver Jarvis. Photo Jean Michel Le Meur / DPPI

Jarvis and Tincknell, meanwhile, are bullish on their new full-season opportunities in America in the stacked DPi portion of IMSA’s Prototype class. Both are LMP2 class winners at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Jota; Jarvis  this past year in second overall co-driving with Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent in the No. 38 Oreca 07 Gibson, and Tincknell in 2014 the “Mighty 38” open-top Zytek Z11SN Nissan with Oliver Turvey and Simon Dolan.

“I am absolutely delighted to be joining Mazda at such an exciting time,” Jarvis said. “I have followed the project closely since the launch of the stunning RT24-P and I am convinced that the project will be successful. It was an easy decision when the opportunity arose to be part of it. Having raced in and won both the Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours, the IMSA championship is one I know very well. It has always been a goal of mine to race in the championship full-time and I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be part of it as the championship continues to grow.”

Harry Tincknell. Photo: Drew Gibson

Tincknell added, “I am really honored to be able to race for Mazda Team Joest this season in the WeatherTech Championship. The whole Mazda team has put in so much effort and made a lot of progress in every area, and after my first test in the car I can’t wait to see how we get on at Daytona. The Mazda RT24-P DPi has taken huge strides over the winter and I immediately felt comfortable in the car. I know the championship is very competitive and it will be a tough fight, but the spirit of the whole team is so determined and ready for it.”

Mazda Motorsports North America director John Doonan explained the rationale for the lineup adjustments.

“Mazda has had a driver development program since 2007,” he said. “So, it’s a big part of our Mazda Prototype program to feature drivers that have come up through the Mazda ranks, whether that’s in sports cars like Tristan Nuñez, or the open-wheel side of things with Bomarito and Pigot. We’re thrilled that those superb young men are back with us again in 2018.

Rene Rast. Photo courtesy Mazda

“Working with Joest, we were also able to secure fast, winning drivers from their recent history, which makes Jarvis and Rast a good fit, as is Tincknell, who has been successful in both GT and Prototype cars. We ask a lot of our drivers outside the car as well, so it’s great to add drivers who will fit the chemistry of what we hope to achieve as a team.”

Mazda’s lineup confirmation brings the number of confirmed DPi full-season lineups up to nine. Mazda, Acura Team Penske, Action Express Racing (with both its No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing and No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.Rs) and the pair of Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPis have both their full-season and endurance lineups announced. The No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R has its full-season lineup set, but has not announced its endurance driver or drivers.

Mazda is set to reveal further program details later this week.

Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told NBCSports.com that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500