The Mazda prototype team had a troubled fuel injector that produced flames during the late stage pit stops. Soldiering on and contesting third place, the team continued. Only 10 minutes before the end of the race, a smoking Mazda appeared under the Turn 11 bridge and made the turn down the hill onto pit lane. Driver Joel Miller steered next to a safety vehicle as the rear of the car burst into flames. He jumped out and prevented the car from rolling while the safety team doused the fire. Ironically, the conflagration was only yards from victory lane where throngs of fans, photographers, and officials were awaiting the winners. Before the blaze, reporter John Dagys had noticed the flames during the pit stops and correctly predicted in the media center that the Mazda’s time was likely growing short.
Full credit to Mazda and their PR representative Jade Gruss for being consistently transparent about the program and the problems encountered by the cars throughout the season. It would be easy to be more elusive or more generic about the problems. They are transparent in press releases, active on social media and available at the track. Mazda has been the plucky little program that tries, and tries, but just hasn’t been able to break through to be a consistent threat for wins.
With full apologies to Mazda and Joel Miller who would prefer not to see their prototype in flames, the shot is unique because the event happened so close to the end of the race that most photographers were getting situated in victory lane and had no good angle on the shot. I was fortunate to be setting up for a different shot – the checkered flag being waved over finishing cars – and was immediately across the track for a direct look at the flaming Mazda. The 2016 Petit Le Mans also marks the end of the Mazda Lola program with new regulations leading Mazda to a different program for 2017 which they recently unveiled at the LA Auto Show.
Camera Settings – 1/400 shutter speed, f/4, ISO 2500, 280mm.