After a busy week of traveling abroad with the Friends of MX-5 event in Barcelona, I was ready to get back at it in the Mazda Prototype at Long Beach. The Long Beach Grand Prix is an historic event, and it’s a really intense environment for endurance sports car racing because it’s the shortest event of the year at 100 minutes. It’s really just a flat out sprint race!
We knew from our previous experiences there that the track surface is really bumpy, which is not the most ideal situation for the P2-style chassis. But through hard work from the team with simulation and development, we arrived with an improved package that we hoped would be competitive.
After the first practice, we saw that certainly was the case, with Mazda leading practice for the first time in this program’s history. Qualifying was nothing less than exciting with a stack-up in the hairpin, where it’s nearly impossible for drivers to see around the corner – it’s a 25mph U-turn! With just minutes remaining in the qualifying session, the green flag waved again and we were off for a one-time flyer to fight for a better starting position. The lap worked out and we managed to grab third place in our No. 70 Mazda, which is my best qualifying to date in that car. Getting a second-row starting position was a satisfying result and gave the team great momentum and encouragement.
We all figured it was going to be an interesting start, and our intuition was correct as the front row had some contact, which allowed us to slip through to second place. Maintaining second through the opening stages of the race was very intense and exciting, and it was like doing one qualifying lap after another because of the pace. Traffic was an extra factor on that circuit, too. I definitely learned a couple of lessons throughout my opening stint about navigating traffic and exchanging positions with the other prototypes.
We were able to outlast the competition on fuel mileage and took the lead, with Mazdas going one-two for several laps before making our pit stop.
As the race came to the closing stages and the leaders cycled through, we found ourselves on the heels of a podium position. Our No. 70 Mazda finished fourth and the No. 55 was fifth, which is the best result in the program’s history. We’re certainly excited about that, but it definitely leaves us hungry for more when we go to Mazda’s home track of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in two weeks.