The 2020 IMSA Sportscar Championship drew to a close at the weekend with Mazda Motorsport taking overall victory in the Sebring 12 Hours.
The world-famous once-round the clock endurance race at Sebring, which ranks alongside the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Daytona 24 Hours as one of sportscar racing’s ‘big three’ was delayed from its usual date in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was Mazda’s first overall victory in the Sebring 12 Hours and adds another blue-ribbon sportscar racing accolade to their famous 1991 win at Le Mans.
The race itself was filled with plenty of drama, however both the Mazda RT24-Ps raced with a calm and considered strategy coupled with superb driving and some perfect pitstop execution allowing them to go into the final 40 minutes of the race running in first and second place, comfortably clear of the competition and rest of the field.
With only half an hour to go, the #77 car was forced into the pits with a puncture, cruelly denying British driver Oliver Jarvis on what could well have been his second overall Sebring 12 Hours victory. However, the #55 Mazda of Harry Tincknell, Jonathan Bomarito and Ryan Hunter-Reay crossed the line ten seconds clear of the number six Penske Acura, talking an historic victory, with the #77 drivers and crew recovering to take the final podium place. The win for the #55 car at Sebring secured third place in the driver’s and team’s championship, rounding off a successful season for the Multimatic run Mazda team.
Commenting after the race on the team’s victory, Vice President of Multimatic SVO, Larry Holt said:
“This is a truly spectacular result for Mazda, although only half the length of Daytona or Le Mans, I consider Sebring to be way tougher in terms of an actual test of endurance. The bumpy nature of the circuit puts inputs into the car that you don’t see anywhere else and it truly tests the car and driver to the limit.”
As night fell on the central Florida circuit, the Mazda cars and drivers kept to plan and slowly climbed up the field. With just two and a half hours to go Olivier Pla had taken the lead in the #77 car with IndyCar star Ryan Hunter-Reay running in a strong second place. British drivers Jarvis and Tincknell then took over driving the cars to the end of the race, making it look like an historic one-two for Mazda was in the bag, until a late race puncture denied Jarvis of a much deserved victory.
Harry Tincknell commented:
“Our strategy was to just get to the 10th hour without any trouble and be in the fight at the end. I was pushing like crazy on those last two stints to catch the number 77 car. I got in the car in second place, 25 seconds down and at that point was thinking a 1-2 would be great and then I heard the news that Oliver had a puncture, I feel for those guys; it’s tough and I’ve been in that situation before.
“I thought I was going to have a fun cruise to the win as we were 28 seconds ahead of the Acura, but then the yellow flags came out and I’m sat behind the safety car thinking ‘this is what you dream of’ 20-minutes to go, leading one of the biggest races in the world, so I told myself to just give it everything. At the end when we needed it, we had great pace, this is such a huge result for the team and Mazda.”
The 2021 IMSA season is scheduled to begin in January with the Daytona 24 Hours with British drivers Oliver Jarvis and Harry Tincknell driving in the same car, as Mazda will run just one car next year. They will be joined by Jonathan Bomarito and Tristan Nunez.
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.
Photograph courtesy of Mazda