05_TomLongDaytonaLeaderThe Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona ran this past weekend at Daytona International Speedway, and we took the green flag under a sunny sky and with a lot of fans on hand. Our two SpeedSource Mazda SKYACTIV diesel prototypes saw plenty of action from the start.

I started the No. 07, and I was able to advance some positions while managing to steer clear of early race incidents. The rain on Friday had changed the track conditions, and blustery winds made handling on the car very tricky.

04_TimingCropI got into a rhythm and we were able to take advantage of our SKYACTIV’s renewable diesel fuel technology, which allows us to go longer on a fuel run than our competitors. During the second hour, all of our competitors stopped for fuel but we were able to stay out and take the lead. I led the race overall for a few laps prior to our pit stop.

That was a huge accomplishment for Mazda and the SpeedSource team, and a real show of the progress they have made with this program. We proved that our Mazda is capable of being competitive, and I’m really looking forward to the races to come. I think we’ll really shine as we get to tracks that have more of an emphasis on handling.

When the team told me that we were leading the race, it certainly gave me chills. I was excited, but I had to stay focused on the task of driving! It was a privilege to lead and to be the driver in the car for Mazda: it was the first time they had ever led overall at Daytona, and the first time a diesel had led the race.

04_LeadingDaytonaWe did have a couple of issues and we had to persevere to stay in the running. By the time I got in the car for my second stint, it was nighttime. I stayed in for about three hours, but the time flew by. I was able to continue advancing the car to make up laps we had lost earlier in the day. Getting to run for that long while the fireworks were overhead really made special memories for me.

Unfortunately, a little past the halfway mark of the race, the team opted to retire the car because we were having some overheating issues. We’ll learn a lot from the diagnostics so we can prevent that in the future. We lasted for 12 hours, which means we know we can go the full race distance of every round remaining in the 2015 season, and we will only gain more reliability and speed as we go on.