Climbing the Mazda ladder
Climbing the Mazda ladder
John Doonan, the director of Motorsport for Mazda North America, is in motion, working his way through the Long Beach paddock on race day.
Mazda has 400 employees at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race and Doonan wants to greet and thank them all.
Mazda takes a smart, focused approach with motorsports playing a big part in what makes Mazda unique.
For many racers, Mazda is the place to go for cars, engines, kits, parts, and race support, and that passion carries over to its production vehicles.
“I love the grass roots of racing,” said Doonan.
“My dad and his friends raced Mazda RX-7s and when I was 9 or 10 years old, I said that I wanted to go to Japan to see Mazda headquarters. My mom was teasing me about it recently because I’ve been there nine times in the past two years.”
Doonan, who has been with Mazda officially since 2003, lives in suburban Chicago and flies between 250,000-300,000 miles per year for races, meetings, key tests, and events.
The Mazda culture
“There are two key pillars for Mazda,” said Doonan.
“The first is that the driver and the car are one. They should be like a horse and rider. All of our development programs should end up producing cars that Mazda enthusiasts will enjoy driving.
“The second pillar is that people who drive Mazdas expect their driving experiences to make them happy.
“We are a ‘happy brand’ and motorsports, even with all of its challenges and intensity, should bring a lot of joy.”
The Mazda approach brings joy to a lot of people in the marketplace and in motorsports where the brand has a stunning 60 percent share of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and another big hit with its new Mazda MX5 Cup car.
“We have a small, but very knowledgeable, experienced and passionate staff in our parts department and at the tracks,” said Doonan of his popular team. “If our guys have a rare weekend off, many of them will go race themselves.”
The Mazda ladder is a cornerstone of the Mazda motorsports strategy, providing a well-defined progression to measure and recognize talent and provide opportunities to the cream of the crop.
“There isn’t anything like it in the open wheel racing world,” said Doonan.
“Over half of the drivers participating in the Road to Indy Ladder come from outside the United States. We have drivers from 17 different countries.
“We have a similar philosophy on the Mazda Road to 24 program where the MX5 Cup is the first step and our Mazda prototype team is the top of the ladder.
“We have 57 drivers in our Mazda Road to Indy program and 40-45 in MX5 Cup and more than 20 in the IMSA Mazda Prototype Lites class. They all become knowledgeable about Mazda and are our brand ambassadors”
The Prototype adventures
The top of that ladder, the Mazda Prototype team in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, has struggled mightily after starting down a diesel path that was suddenly closed off for the international LMP2 class. So, as good racers do, Mazda has gone in a new direction.
Now powered by a Mazda MZ-2.0T petrol engine, the Sylvain Tremblay led SpeedSource team, with drivers Jonathan Bomarito and Tristan Nunez in No. 55, and Tom Long and Joel Miller aboard the No. 70, has been working its way to the top and led the opening practices at Long Beach.
“It’s been a journey,” said Doonan.
“The people who were in the struggle will realize the success. We have pace now and a good package. Everyone is locked in. When success does come, it will mean so much to the people who went through it in 2013. We are all eager to see it happen.”
The only Japanese maker to ever claim outright victory at the Le Mans 24 Hour race would like nothing better than a breakthrough victory here at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The next Chapter
“Our Mazda MX5 was recently recognized as the ‘World Car of the Year’ and ‘World Design of the Year,’” said Doonan. “We have great products in the market and we have great things coming on the motorsports side. Mazda has a great history and we are trying to write the next chapter with our WeatherTech Championship Prototype program.
“The 2017 season brings the chance for us to do work on the car body and further tell our brand story.”