After a stellar and disappointing performance at the 2019 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, Mazda Team Joest embarked on yet another endurance journey at this weekend's 12 Hours of Sebring. And while the No. 77 Mazda RT24-P of Tristan Nunez, Timo Bernhard, and Oliver Jarvis started the race from second of the grid, the two Soul Red machines haven't shown the kind of superior pace that helped them demolish a 26-year-old record in Daytona.
However, one question remains for the young and ambitious team: what about the 24 Hours of Le Mans?
During a recent conversation with Mazda North America CEO Masahiro Moro, The Drive asked the motorsport-loving executive about Mazda Team Joest's future in prototype racing, and about the chances of seeing Mazda take on the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the near future. Moro-San's face lit up with excitement when asked about the French race, hinting that there isn't a plan he could "share with us," before quickly correcting his answer. So, perhaps, there is a plan after all.
"I think we don't have a plan we can probably sh[are]...about doing a 24 hours race yet," Moro-San told The Drive. "We have been in contact with the ACO [Automobile Club de l'Ouest], and I'm personally meeting with Pierre Fillon and Jean Todt sometime to discuss. It's important for us [ACO and Mazda] to be in the loop."
Mazda has a rich history at Le Mans and its 787B race-winning racer owns a special place in the heart of endurance racing aficionados worldwide. The modern-day Mazda RT24-P not only looks as gorgeous as some of the brand's previous prototype racers, but it's also piloted by men who are more than "adequate" at the famous Circuit de la Sarthe, such as three-time Le Mans winner Timo Bernhard.
"We need a great team and a great car, great race management—and of course, resources," said Moro-San. "Team Joest has won the 24 hours [of Le Mans] 15 or 16 times so, so there's definitely plenty of capability to manage that side [Le Mans] as well."
"I think we're looking forward to [seeing] what will be our future, as time comes [to decide] to go 24-hour racing. Right now our big objective is, first and foremost, to get a championship here [in IMSA]," Moro-San added. "Mr. Joest, he's a very strong guy, and he's definitely demanding to get a title—after that, we will think about the next step."
While doing a one-off entry to the 24 Hours of Le Mans isn't far-fetched given the caliber of Mazda Team Joest, the possibility of having compatible rules and regulations for DPi (Daytona Prototype International) cars between IMSA and World Endurance Championship (WEC) would be something appealing to the Japanese automaker—a universal regulation of sorts. This would allow not only Mazda, but the likes of Toyota and other teams to cross-schedule events and participate in iconic races like the Rolex 24, Sebring, Le Mans, Fuji, and others without needing to build two cars or run two different organizations.
"The last couple of years the ACO with WEC and IMSA have crossed events and teams like at the 12 Hours of Sebring, so I think when it comes to balance of performance (BOP) in the USA I think [it] is good right now," said Moro-San. "From my point of view DPi format is very cost-friendly for the team, so that's good. This means that more teams can come and join, which is important for the series."
"I hope this year the FIA thinks about how they can bring more teams to the series, and we [Mazda] are hoping that the regulations [across series] become much closer. I hope there's a universal regulation—I think it'd be a good formula for global racing—but this is also a very political thing. It would be great not just for me, but also Mazda fans, they're always cheering us every time," added Moro-San.