Reinhold Joest is a soft-spoken man who shuns the spotlight and rarely grants interviews. But there’s no avoiding the spotlight that has shone on the race team he founded, Joest Racing. The team will do battle as Mazda Team Joest in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2018 with the Mazda RT24-P prototype under Daytona Prototype international (DPi) rules.
Joest created the team in 1978 after a highly successful driving career that began in 1962. His team has achieved an unmatched record of endurance racing championships and Le Mans race wins, dominating the sport as the factory Audi team since 1999. But, due to troubles for the parent company Volkswagen, Audi abruptly withdrew from endurance racing at the end of the 2016 season. Despite the crushing disappointment and the last-minute bombshell, Joest committed to go all-out in the final two races to close the chapter with success.
“The only choice was we push to the end with all our power,” said Joest in his sun-drenched office at the team headquarters in Wald-Michelbach, Germany. “Not by doing things a different way. You can’t say you’ll finish by spending nothing, no extra hours, no nothing. We did our job to the end. And the result was winning the last race in Bahrain. I was happy.”
The end of an era led to the start of a new one with Mazda Team Joest, but only after deep consideration for Joest.
“[Do we] close the doors completely?,” Joest said, about his thoughts soon after the season. “I’m old enough now. But then, I had difficult nights. I couldn’t sleep. That meant I can never stop. Never stop your life, your story. I need this. I like this.”
Within weeks, the team received several offers, but Joest didn’t feel comfortable with them. At the last minute, it was decided that Joest team director Ralf Jüttner would make a trip to Daytona for the 2017 Rolex 24 Hour race.
“We had some meetings with the officials there in Daytona and asked about ‘what is the future, what is new? And what is the chance we could jump in?,’” said Joest. “I like the USA and IMSA because we did a lot of races there in past years… Maybe this was a focus for the future to think about?”
As Jüttner sat in a corporate hospitality area on the morning of the race, he was approached about taking a meeting with Mazda Motorsports executives John Doonan and Jim Bowie, who were looking to align with a top team in 2018 and beyond. While the pre-race ceremonies were taking place, the trio met in secret.
“Ralf was very happy after the meeting,” Joest said. “He said ‘I have a feeling this person [Doonan] is nice and serious.’ We had a meeting here [at Joest headquarters]. And then another in Chicago [at Mazda’s Midwest Region office]. And then it was finished. This is always a good sign.”
With the deal complete, Mazda Team Joest has begun testing to prepare for the season which kicks off with the Rolex 24 at Daytona in late January. The team will soon have an American headquarters in the Atlanta area, and Joest promises that his team’s meticulous preparation and unrelenting drive will continue with the Mazda RT24-P prototype.
“We have a lot of experience, and we bring that in for free. Now, we look for winning,” Joest said. “This is our sole focus. I said to Mr. Doonan, ‘we are not a hobby driver team. We want to see results!’”