|Last year's action|
Mazda Takes Part In Emotional Prototype Finale
DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – When the green flag drops for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship finale at Road Atlanta on Saturday, a season that began 246 days earlier on January 30 at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, expect a physical race at the 10-hour Petit Le Mans presented by Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort.
Drivers – many of them auditioning for jobs for 2017 – will give no quarter. Those involved in the points battle – and it comes down to Petit for all four classes to clinch their championships – will have to fight teams and drivers with nothing to lose, intent on closing the year with a victory.
"It's a tough race and a physical track that's hard on the drivers and on the cars," said Tristan Nunez, co-driver of the No. 55 Mazda Prototype. "You've got to put it all on the line, but bring the car back to your teammate."
Count the two Mazda Prototypes in the "nothing to lose" category. This is the third year for the two-car team, but the first year they have had power than compares to the competition. And while they have qualified on the pole and led a lot of laps, that first victory has eluded them. A win at Road Atlanta would put an undeniable stamp of approval on the program.
|2015 race action|
Especially since after Petit, the two Mazdas, as well as many of the other Prototype cars, will be sent to the garage for the final time. Next year, the WeatherTech Championship will feature all-new Prototype cars that will debut in January at the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
It's a historic event for the Mazdas in particular: It was the last project for historic Lola Cars, founded in 1958, before the company went into bankruptcy.
"It gives me goosebumps to finish the season with the last Lolas that will ever race professionally," said Nunez. "Growing up, watching Lolas, they were always beautiful cars. The history behind Lola is iconic, and it has held a special place in my heart since I climbed into one in 2014. To be saying goodbye to the car is bittersweet."
Nunez and the rest of the Mazda team would love to give the two Lola B12/80s a proper retirement party with a victory. And the way the Mazdas have been running, don't rule it out.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]TRAFFIC WILL BE A CONCERN: Road Atlanta is a tight, twisting 2.54-mile track that rewards bravery – right up to the point where you end up skidding through the red Georgia clay into the wall. Especially at night – it gets dark out there.
Traffic is always a factor, and with 38 entries in four classes – with each class running at a different speed – you can count on incidents between the front-runners and cars they are trying to pass. Weather isn't expected to be an issue, as the forecast is moderately favorable, calling for "mostly sunny" conditions on Saturday.
Take a long look at the Prototype field: Among the entries is the historic DeltaWing, making its final WeatherTech Championship appearance as well. This race also signifies the return of the No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Honda-Ligier P2 car that won the opening two races of the year and is second in the standings for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, a championship-within-a-championship that rewards the top performers in the four longest races in the IMSA season.
Another Prototype looking for some luck is the No. 90 Visit Florida Corvette DP of Ryan Dalziel, Marc Goossens and guest driver Ryan Hunter-Reay. Last year that car came to Petit with the Prototype points lead, only to lose it during the race. The team has been struggling to find pace all year, and is looking for its first win this season. Expect them to pull out the stops.
HIGH-PROFILE NAMES: A race as long as 10 hours will typically require three drivers instead of the usual two, and in addition to Hunter-Reay, the IndyCar star driving with the No. 90 team, look for fellow IndyCar stars Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais to lend a hand to the two GT Le Mans Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Nos. 66 and 67.
Newly crowned IndyCar champ Simon Pagenaud will take his turn with the points-leading No. 31 Whelen Corvette DP. Spencer Pigot, another IndyCar driver, will help out with the two Mazdas, Nos. 55 and 70. There are plenty of other top sports car drivers from around the world at Petit this year – it's an international event.
TIGHT POINTS BATTLE: While the GT Daytona and Prototype Challenge titles could be clinched early in the event, for two classes, the championship will come down to the performance at Road Atlanta.
In GT Le Mans, the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette drivers Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin lead with 314 points. In second are the drivers of the No. 67 Ford GT, Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook, with 303 points, well within striking distance.
Even closer is the Prototype class: The No. 31 Action Express Whelen Corvette DP is on top with 285 points, but just one point behind is its sister car, the No. 5 Action Express Mustang Sampling Corvette. The drivers of the No. 5 car, Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa, are the defending champions, but Eric Curran and Dane Cameron, drivers of the No. 31, are having a dream season.
Also in the mix is the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta Corvette DP of brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor, who won in the last outing, at Circuit of The Americas. The win moved them to just seven points out of the lead in a battle that will come down to the checkered flag.
ALSO IN ACTION: It's a full platter for race fans this weekend. Aside from the Petit Le Mans for the WeatherTech Championship cars on October 1, there will also be the season-ending Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Road Atlanta 150, as well as the Mazda Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires, and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama.
Petit Le Mans presented by Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort is on Saturday, October 1; the race begins at 11 a.m. ET with live coverage across FOX Sports GO, FS1 and FS2. IMSA Radio coverage, live timing & scoring and in-car cameras will be available at IMSA.com. For information, log into IMSA.com or RoadAtlanta.com.