Mazda Motorsports returns to Watkins Glen, where the team turned around its 2019 season

Mazda Watkins Glen
IMSA
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As Mazda Motorsports, with full-time drivers Oliver Jarvis and Harry Tincknell behind the wheel, tries to chase down the Konica Minolta Acura team, the team hopes Watkins Glen International is just as pivotal this year in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship Series as in 2019.

Mazda Motorsports was operating as a two-car team two years ago, and it was in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen that momentum began to develop. Finishing first and second in that race ahead of the Team Penske Acura team, they went on to score three consecutive victories. Mazda finished one-two again at Mosport in Bowmanville, Ontario, and were then first and third at Road America.

Tincknell won in 2019 with Jonathan Bomarito and Olivier Pla as co-drivers, and Jarvis was part of the second-place team. After restructuring to one car, Tincknell and Jarvis are racing the full schedule in the No. 55 with Bomarito taking on the duties as the third driver in endurance events, which he will do this weekend at the Glen.

“It seems like forever since we’ve been back there, but like you mentioned, the breakthrough victory happened there and kind of storybook fashion going one-two with the cars,” Bomarito said in a prerace Zoom call. “It was amazing, but Watkins Glen is just a phenomenal race track.

“It’s just an unbelievable facility and our cars – prototype cars, cars with the higher horsepower, a lot of downforce – they just loved that place.”

During their streak, all three drivers in this week’s lineup had a chance to visit Victory Lane. Tincknell and Bomarito’s win at the Glen was soon followed by another at Road America. Jarvis won at Mosport.

Through four races in 2021, Mazda is seeking their first win of the season. They’ve shown speed in every race, however, and came closest to victory in the Twelve Hours of Sebring with a runner-up finish for all three drivers.

Mazda finished third in the 24 Hours of Daytona and in the Acura Sports Car Challenge at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, where they also led the field to green from the pole. Their lowest finish of the season came at the Raceway at Belle Isle in Detroit when they crossed under the checkers fourth, but they started on the outside of the front row and showed promise during the weekend.

“Last year, (the Glen) was a big miss off the calendar,” Tincknell said. “I think everyone enjoys going there and certainly, very good memories for Mazda Motorsports, as you said in your prelude. It was a big moment in 2019 to get the first win for the prototype program in a long time. Obviously, we’re very motivated to go back there. It’s a big part of the championship now being two races back-to-back. Jonathan and I are defending the Six Hour race and then the next weekend as well, obviously, the WeatherTech 240 – we won that at Daytona last year, too.

“In a prototype around Watkins Glen, it doesn’t really get much better to be honest. That always does shock you the first few laps – how a corner you think is going to be third gear is fifth gear. It’s just incredible, you have to readapt your horizons a little bit.”

Preparation for the Sahlen’s Six Hour race this year has mostly been done on simulators. And while the drivers remarked on how accurate those sims have become, there is no substitute for real life conditions. Tracks change over the years – and in the Northeast with its harsh winters – conditions can change a lot.

That puts a premium on building adjustability into the car and getting the most out of the limited practice available to drivers and teams. With only one car, the team cannot try multiple setups spread across two entries like they could in 2019.

“I think certainly Mid-Ohio we didn’t roll off the truck in a window we would have liked to have been,” Jarvis said. “I thought Detroit was much better, but I think over the years, we’re very methodical in the way that we work through the sessions and we were constantly improving the car. And I think somewhere, like Detroit, we just got better and better throughout the weekend. And we ended up with a very good race car.

“It’s certainly not an intention to start the first session off the pace. We’d much rather roll out and be the quickest car and progress from there, but it’s just the way things have played out so far this year. Like I said, I think we made a big step in Detroit. We expected Mid-Ohio to be a tough race. It was surprising how quick we actually ended up in qualifying and the race itself.”

The good news for Team Mazda is that back-to-back races are on tap at the same track. One week after the Six Hours of the Glen, IMSA will hold the WeatherTech 240 at the Glen.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.