Mazda drivers laugh off sandbagging charges at Rolex 24: ‘All drivers are kind of whiny’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Mazda drivers scoffed at allegations that they were sandbagging last week during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona test session.

“At the end of the day, it makes good headlines,” Harry Tincknell said Thursday during a Zoom news conference at Daytona International Speedway. “And I think when some teams and drivers win, it’s talent, and when they don’t win, it’s (Balance of Performance). That’s what I have to say on it.”

But in this most recent instance of manufacturer jousting, it was Motul 100 qualifying race winners Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani who leveled the accusations that their rivals weren’t trying as hard.

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Despite Cadillacs dominating much of the results on the opening weekend, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series officials announced Wednesday no Rolex 24 tweaks in DPi. Under its Balance of Performance policy, IMSA officials can enforce parity by restricting teams via aerodynamic, horsepower and weight adjustment.

Mazda’s No. 55 trio of Tincknell, Jonathan Bomarito and Oliver Jarvis all pointed to the results of Thursday morning’s practice – where Cadillac, Mazda and Acura were separated by less than 0.2 seconds among the top four lap times – as evidence that the field already was even.

“All drivers are kind of whiny when it comes to that,” Bomarito said. “I think the fact there were no changes, they feel the BoP is very close, and I think you’ll see that in the 24 Hours. There’s going to be great racing across all three brands that represent the DPi class, and I think you saw that at Sebring and continue to see it at this race.”

Mazda won the Twelve Hours of Sebring season finale last November, leading a top four that featured all three manufacturers.

This is my fifth Daytona, and every year, you hear the same comments after qualifying,” Jarvis said. “This is nothing new. We’ve heard it all before. It’s a shame that BoP becomes a topic, and drivers do put that out in the press, but overall, I think looking at practice this morning, it’s extremely close, and we’re only really going to get a feeling when we get into the race, and even then, it’s going to change depending on the conditions. Certainly different cars work at different temperatures.

A Mazda team member works on the No. 55 co-driven by Oliver Jarvis, Harry Tincknell and Jonathan Bomarito (IMSA).

“I think IMSA have done a really good job, even over the last year or so, it’s been some fabulous racing. Really close. But until we really get into sort of halfway through the race, we’re just not going to know how close it really is.”

Renger van der Zande, who led Thursday morning’s practice, said there was some validity to the comments of Derani and Nasr. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver noted that Mazda was dominant in qualifying at the 2020 Rolex 24 and is better positioned to disguise its speed in downsizing from two to one entry. There are three Cadillacs in the field.

“There’s always one Cadillac who starts to push,” van der Zande told NBC Sports in a Wednesday interview. “There are a few teams running that car, and there’s no communication between those teams, so if we slow down, there’s always another team who speeds up, and that basically gives the car for us to speed up as well because we’re not holding back.

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“So everybody is pushing with the Cadillac, but if you’re the only Mazda in the field, you can play the game as hard as you can, and it looks like well, I wouldn’t say they are playing the game to the maximum, but you just have to look at last year’s lap times where they were on pole with a big margin and all that, and this year’s lap times. I don’t think anybody got slower, so that’s how I look at it.

“I think Nasr is right. That’s the feeling you get, and he spoke from the heart and said, ‘Well, this is what we think and what’s going to happen,’ and the only thing I want is to have a fair BoP so we can have a fair fight. But also Penske played the BoP for a long time, and the year before, it was very clear how they played it. So within Acura they probably know how to do that. It’s obviously two teams now, so maybe less communication between them, but on the other hand they will cooperate.

“It’s always this BoP topic isn’t it? I really hate talking about it, but it’s a big part of what we do, because it really shows at the end who is going to be in the fastest car, and if they play the BoP and have the fastest car, it wouldn’t be so nice.”