A fiery ending for the pole-sitter of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The pole-sitter’s bid for the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona went down in flames Saturday night as part of dual mechanical problems for Mazda Team Joest at Daytona International Speedway.

The No. 77 Mazda DPI, which Oliver Jarvis qualified first Thursday with a record-setting lap, suffered a fire after completing 220 laps. About 20 minutes later, the team determined the car was beyond repair and retired after just more than seven hours of the 24-hour event.

“The car suddenly stopped working,” said Timo Bernhard, who was behind the wheel of the car at the time and was unable to extinguish the fire. “We were competitive and fighting for victory.”

There were some prerace questions from rivals about whether Mazda had traded speed for reliability.

But Bernhard dismissed those suggestions. “Not a concern,” he said. “I think we had good preparation for sure. A lot of experience and good performance. Just a little disappointed because we had a great car.”

A few minutes earlier, the No. 55 Mazda also had a problem with an apparent fuel leak, losing three laps while making repairs.

It was an unfortunately familiar storyline for Mazda, which had both of its car suffer problems in last year’s Rolex, too.

Tristan Nunez drives the Mazda DPi through a turn during the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. (AP Photo/John Raoux)