With their best-ever finish and qualifying effort, the two-car Mazda Prototype team is focused on the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix that kicks off today as part of the 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in Long Beach, California.
The first two races of the year sanctioned by the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) were endurance contests of 12 and 24 hours. But at long Long Beach, the cars will compete for 100 minutes, which is the shortest race of the year for the Prototype class in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. Long Beach is considered a home race for Mazda, as it is the closest event to the company’s North American headquarters in Irvine, also in California. Hundreds of Mazda employees are expected to attend to cheer for their team.
The Long Beach race will feature the No. 70 Mazda Prototype piloted by Tom Long and Joel Miller, while the No. 55 Mazda will be in the hands of Jonathan Bomarito and Tristan Nunez. This marks a home race for Miller and Bomarito, who are Southern California residents. Utilizing the power of the new Mazda MZ-2.0T racing engine, the Mazdas most recently qualified fifth and seventh at the 12 Hours of Sebring, and then survived the grueling endurance classic with sixth- and eighth-place finishes.
Nunez, the 20-year-old driver of the No. 55 Mazda, appeared on March 28 at the 138th-annual White House Easter Egg Roll to help promote First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative for children. This week, he will make a number of stops at area grade schools as a part of his Dnt Txt n drV Foundation outreach to teach the dangers of distracted driving. Nunez shared his thoughts about the upcoming race on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile (3.1-kilometer) course.
“It’s a completely different mindset for Long Beach,” Nunez explained. “This being a sprint race, qualifying becomes really important. There aren’t a lot of passing opportunities so if you can get a position at the front, you could be good for the whole race. That’s why getting a great qualifying pace is crucial. In the race, it’s going to be aggressive. If there’s an opportunity to pass, you gotta take it. You have to maximize every opportunity you get. It’s very different from the first two races of the year.”
“Our car runs really well on a smooth track—places—like Daytona and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca,” Nunez further explained, contrasting those circuits with the uneven surfaces of the Long Beach streets. “Now, when you put us on a street course with a lot of bumps, it cuts away the aerodynamics under the floor [of the car]and it’s a lot harder to drive. It will be a challenge, but with the new engine, we’re going to be competitive at every track we go to. I’m excited to see where we’ll stack-up to the competition on a street circuit.”