John Doonan of Mazda (photo by Kenny Nakajima)

Mazda Supports Motorsports: Creating A Ladder System From The Grassroots Up

Located in the picturesque resort town of Monterey, nestled in the suburbs of San Francisco in northern California is the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The Laguna Seca circuit is the only one in the world, much less the US, whose name is adorned with the name of an auto manufacturer.

The course’s layout utilizes the region’s hilly landscape, affording a track that is brimming with sloping elevation; starting with the corkscrew, practically synonymous with the Laguna Seca track, that runs down from the approach of the blind to the top of the course’s mountain, the course is dotted with 11 different turns that all focus on different technical aspects of cornering. This track, adorned with the name Mazda in 2001, has been witness to a large number of renown competitions over its long history.

During the three day period between 9 and 11 September, Mazda’s “holy land” held the 1st ever Global Final Exhibition Match at its Mazda Global MX-5 Cup. With five categories of races being held over a three day period, all competitors were either Mazda vehicles or those mounted with Mazda engines. This truly was celebration of Mazda autos.

I was lucky enough to speak with Mazda of North America’s John Doonan, in charge of Mazda Motorsports, regarding the company’s ventures into the world of motorsports.

“We consider the grassroots category to be the foundation of the whole pyramid of events that we at Mazda North America hold. Over 55% of the vehicles used by the more than 20,000 participants in races held by the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) and nasa (National Auto Sports Association) are Mazdas.”

Mazda is probably more active in the North American motorsports world than people in the company’s homeland of Japan are aware, and Mr. Doonan’s words regarding the company’s commitment to supporting the foundation of the motorsports world in North America would certainly shock any but the most devout of North American motorsports reporters. That surprise turned into a sense of joy however when hearing that the MX-5 Cup is simply one part of a greater Step Up program the company has in place.

“Mazda is currently engaged in running a ladder system, a type of program that will allow grassroots racers to step up their game to the next level. This Step Up program is known as the Mazda Road To 24, though we have another known as the Mazda Road To Indy for Indy racers as well.”

“Drivers that are victorious in the Mazda Road To 24 receive funding of $100,000 to be used for the MX-5 Cup. Champions of the MX-5 Cup series receive $200,000 as funding for participation in the prototype light series, allowing in the end for drivers to rise up to the status of drivers of prototype machines in the IMSA top series.”

“In the same manner, with the Mazda Road To Indy, 21 racers are invited from all over the world to compete, and those with the best performance in the end are giver $200,000 to participate in the USF2000. Champions of the USF2000 receive $325,000 and a Pro Mazda seat, and those who win at the Pro Mazda get $500,000 and an Indy Lights seat. Finally, winners of the Indy Lights receive $1,000,000 and the right to participate in the 3 races that comprise the Indy 500. Out of the 33 racers in the Indy 500 last year, 23 of them had at some point raced in the Mazda Road To Indy at some point in their career. Mazda is committed to making the dreams of racers a reality through our Mazda Motorsports program. Cars in the USF2000 have a 2 liter MZR; the Pro Mazda racers have the 13V Rotary, the same as on the RX-8; and the Indy Lights racers use a 2 liter turbo MZR-R,” said Mr. Doonan.

Mazda North America’s motorsports history has several visible differences in terms of how it started up when comparing it to that of other automakers. Using the release of the popular and and sturdy Miata (Roadster) as a jumping off point, the company started a series of races that would allow Mazda maniacs to easily participate, culminating in the company continuing with this trend until they had build a ladder all the way up to the top category.

“It all started in 1970 when a mechanic at a Seattle dealership wanted to display the durability of a rotary engine that he had mounted onto a commercial vehicle in the circuit, gymkhana, and ice racing environments. The company opened up a motorsports-targeted parts division in the ‘80s to coincide with the release of the Miata, and with racers now able to participate in races using the Miata, the company expanded into grassroots entry level gymkhana races, time attacks, and the Miata-only “Spec Miata” races that are held all over the US. Currently, if you are registered and recognized on the Mazda Motorsports website, you will be able to purchase motorsports parts for your vehicle directly from the company.”

“Furthermore, our brand new MX-5 is the first complete racing car that Mazda has produced and made available for purchase. The Mazda Global MX-5 Cup, which allows racers to participate driving MX-5s, is a single model race using the Mazda Roadster (ND) which shares specs all throughout the world.”

“The MX-5s used in this race are for circuit racing as opposed to more lax American party races and use American style left-side handling and the American 2 liter NA engine. Specs for engine power, tires, suspension, brakes and even up to the roll cage are set to Global MX-5 Cup standards where only the type of seat used can be selected by the driver, making it basically a completely level playing field. Having started our American Series this year, next year’s 2017 series will be held in Japan, and we have plans to hold races in Australia and Europe in years to come.

The company, firmly grounded in American soil, is working to use part of its Step Up Series to bring grassroots racers onto the world stage.

[Translated by Bryce Clarke]