John Doonan Talks Mazda Racing
Question: It looks like Dyson was struggling this year. What happened there?
Answer: We are in a transition period for sports car racing. With the much needed merger of Grand-Am and the American Le Mans series, we are on the verge of what should be an amazing period. But, just like when Champ Car and the IRL merged, it created a year or two when things were bumpy. I think it’s fair to say that the Dyson team tried some new things and not all of them worked. That’s the nature of racing. They had a great run at the most recent race at VIR and will certainly be looking to close out the ALMS history books with a win at the Petit Le Mans.
Question: What will Mazda be racing in the Continental Tire Challenge or Pirelli World Challenge next year?
Answer: We expect to see Mazda cars competing in both championships in 2014. The Mazda philosophy is to have great customer teams. We are not seeking to have factory teams. In some classes, like B-Spec it is very much against the spirit of the competition. We seek to develop the best products possible, reward teams with contingency prize money, and let the market decide what cars to race where. It is only when we are developing new technology that it’s key to have a strategic engineering partner like we have with SpeedSource in Grand-Am.
Question: What is the state of the Mazda Road to Indy?
Answer: As race fans know, Indycar racing suffered for many years with the IRL and ChampCar split. The merger in 2008 was good, but came at a time of overall economic challenges. When top Indycar teams find it challenging to find partners, it is even tougher for the series below. I believe that there is blue sky on the horizon now that Andersen Promotions has taken over the total management of the USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights Championships. If you were at the races this year you saw amazing depth of field in USF2000. That bodes well for those drivers and teams to move up to Pro Mazda and Indy Lights in the years ahead.
Question: Will Mazda supply an engine to the next Indy Lights car?
Answer: While we have a great partnership with Andersen Promotions for the Mazda Road to Indy, the Indy Lights engine program does not match our corporate objectives. Mazda has to live within our means and cannot simply add programs. If we were to add a new program, we would likely need to eliminate an existing program. While we are race fans, we operate motorsports as a business and have both business and technical objectives.
Question: What are those objectives?
Answer: To sell cars. Sometime people forget that we are not a race team. The fact that we have such a strong position in club racing is built upon the MX-5 Miata and the RX-7 being amazing sports cars that work very well on the track. I would argue that great car sales led to affordable racecars for club racers. Everything else, including our present professional racing programs, was built upon that foundation. We love the sport, but have responsibilities to the business.
Question: What does the world of club racing look like these days?
Answer: I would say that club racing is quite strong. We were at the SCCA Runoffs last month and Mazda set records for most entries (201), greatest market share (28%), and biggest race in SCCA Runoff history when 67 Spec Miatas took the green flag. Mazda is now the official car of the SCCA. The SCCA Runoffs are coming to Mazda Raceway in 2014. The NASA Spec Miata Teen Challenge is growing and we have some great plans with NASA in the works. After a slow start the B-Spec class is growing. Overall, club racing is looking good.
Question: As the world waits for the next generation MX-5 Miata, will the MX-5 Cup continue?
Answer: We are working on the details for the 2014 MX-5 Cup schedule and are talking with both existing partners and organizations interested in joining in the MX-5 Cup in 2014. We think that the MX-5 Cup offers an amazing value in terms of the cost to race vs the champions’ prize, a ride in the series above. Where else can you take the world’s most affordable car and compete for a $250,000 prize?
Question: That series above has varied over the years. Two year ago Michael Cooper went to Pirelli World Challlenge and last year Stevan McAleer went to the Continental Tire Challenge. How is that decision made?
Answer: Over the past few years, we have seen tremendous changes to the sport, and every sports car series, many of which were dictated by the overall economy. As I mentioned, this is a business, and we need to make strategic decisions as to where to race when it is corporate money being spent and where we can gain the most value. We also take into account the scholarship winners experience and interest. So the short answer is that each year we make a decision based upon what is best for both Mazda and the racer as to where the MX-5 Cup champion advances.
Question: For young drivers, alignment with a factory program is the ultimate goal, How does a driver get started on the Mazda Ladder program?
Answer: I am often asked that question. We are so proud of what we have been able to do in this industry….an industry first, for sure. Since 2007, with full support from our executive leadership, we have been able to fund dozens of drivers and over three dozen seasons of racing in Mazdas or Mazda powered race cars. From the start, our intention was to do something special for the industry. We wanted to help drivers that had talent, but lacked the funding. From a broader perspective, Mazda has the youngest median age buyer among full line brands in the auto industry, so having our brand in front of a young audience, and their parents, is a huge benefit for us and continues to help us identify our next generation of car buyer. The current open wheel ladder starts in karting and reaches to the Mazda Road to Indy…and on the closed wheel side, we have been doing our Club Racer Shootout, for Mazda-powered racers who win a grassroots championship in NASA, SCCA, or Skip Barber…taking them to the next level in the MX-5 Cup Series…on to the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge or Pirelli World Challenge…and, ultimately, the “cream of the crop” has even gotten a turn at the wheel of our top level programs in Grand-Am or ALMS. We expect that to continue with the Tudor United SportsCar Championship. If you want to race at the top with Mazda, start at the bottom with Mazda – our customer teams are very good at promoting from within the deep talent pool on both the sports car and open wheel sides of Mazda.
Question: You are always a glass half full kind of guy. Does anything worry you about the sport?
Answer: We do like to be positive. I think the sport as a whole needs to be vigilant to shared challenges and opportunities. We need greater cooperation among everyone to help grow the sport. Everyone needs to work together to improve safety. We need schedules with fewer conflicts. We need rules sets that keep costs down. We need racers to understand that modern motorsports is not 100% sport – it is a combination of sport, technology, and commerce. It is about value. Every race driver, team, or series who has a business partner needs to provide a favorable ROI to that partner.