Miller: Our Turn for the Podium

Joel Miller drives Mazda DPi during 2017 Detroit IMSA race
Photo: Mazda Motorsports

The IMSA weekend at Detroit took place on Belle Isle, an island between Detroit on the U.S. side and Windsor on the Canadian side, which is pretty cool.

Usually, street courses are bumpy, but when we arrived for the track walk Thursday afternoon, all of the drivers were pleased to see that the bumpy areas were ground down.

We knew the Mazda RT24-P package would be competitive on street courses, as we saw at the Long Beach Grand Prix earlier in the year. With some Balance of Performance adjustments in our favor, plus a few new additions to our car, everyone on the team was looking forward to getting on track.

Race Preparations in Motor City

Friday was a very busy day as we had both practice sessions plus qualifying.

My co-driver Tom Long started in the first session. I climbed in the car only to see a red flag, so I was only able to drive three laps.

We noticed that the Cadillacs were fast as usual — but it was a different feeling for me. They were in reach.

Pegged Back in Qualifying

Qualifying was strange, with both Mazdas in the top five (second and fourth) when the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing car hit the wall hard in Turn 4. This occurred just prior to the halfway point in the qualifying session.

Mazda DPi Prototype cars during IMSA Belle Isle Detroit race
Photo: Mazda Motorsports

IMSA has a rule that states if the minimum green-flag time is not met in the qualifying session, then all class cars will start based on points. Unfortunately for us, that meant our No. 55 car would start fifth and we’d start seventh in the No. 70.

After overnight changes, the car felt really good in the morning warm-up. That is always a good sign going into the race. Before the race, Tom and I had a chat on areas we must capitalize on for a shot at a good result.

New Mazda Takes Green Flag in Detroit

Tom had a good start and made his way up to fifth, right behind the other Mazda. With one hour and 15 minutes to go, a yellow flag came out, which kicked off first round of pit stops and a driver change.

The stop went perfect! We passed our sister car and came out in fourth — good work by the No. 70 crew guys. I felt this was the first domino that put us in the running for a good result.

I knew the restart would set the stage for the second half of the race. It was when all the fun happened!

Charging Forward in Machine Grey

We started in fourth place, so we were fifth in line. I got a good start and was on the gearbox of the No. 10 car, which tried to pass the No. 5 Action Express car on the inside line, which completely opened up the outside lane. That was my opportunity!

Going into Turn 1, I went around the outside of the 10 and then around the 5 car as well. It was definitely a reaction moment where you see the opportunity and just get on with getting the job done.

That was good fun and we were then second and began chasing down the leader. At that moment you do not think about the cars behind — only focus on catching the car ahead.

Landing on the Podium

Fuel mileage became the game. No car had enough fuel to make it to the end.

It’s up to the driver to go as fast as possible, save fuel and get through the GT car field quickly. Sounds like fun, right?

As a driver, you want to push 110 percent all the time, so saving fuel is a bummer. You save fuel by coasting into the braking zones at the end of long straightaways. It is easy to get out of rhythm when doing this, so you still drive on the edge through the corners at the apex, just now when braking on corner entry. It is a totally different way of driving.

We cycled to third place on the final fuel stop, which is where we finished.

Another Mazda Podium on Temporary Streets

This was the first podium for the No. 70 car and my first podium in the Prototype class. It’s been way too long!

The crew put us in a position for a good result by performing so well on the first pit stop. It’s a huge momentum booster for the guys, but also for Tom and I. It shows that we can do this when given the opportunity and I cannot wait to get back to the track for the summer events.

This is the team’s third podium in a row on street courses.

We continue to work hard with the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen up next, so we are back to the endurance racing mindset. I hope to see a few of you there!

What do you think?