Doonan: “Mazda is Always Looking for the Next Challenge”

Photo: John Dagys

Photo: John Dagys

While the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship features a dozen automakers, including seven different chassis/engine combinations in the Prototype class alone, there’s arguably only one manufacturer that’s put its development program on public display this year.

After numerous years of success in the GT ranks, Mazda made the bold step up to the prototype ranks for 2014, fielding the first-ever diesel-powered P2 car and the only full-factory team in the championship’s premier class.

The task of competing alongside the conventional and proven DP and P2 packages has been just one of the challenges for the Japanese manufacturer, as the SpeedSource-run operation has faced an uphill battle with adapting its production powerplant for the rigors of top-level prototype racing.

“When the first road car engines showed up in a crate from Japan, I think all of us gasped and looked at what those were,” Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan told Sportscar365.

“We knew their potential, and knew that the machining and tooling on them were probably the best we’ve ever seen from Mazda. But knowing what we were going to ask them to do, it was a bit daunting,”

“Each step of the way, we’ve found the limits and surpassed the limit and tried to find ways to improve. Cooling has been our big issue, without a doubt. We’re asking this entire package to do three times what it’s designed to do in a road car.

“I think the hardest part is being a racer and being patient and not being able to immediately fight at the front. But we cannot forget the story we’re trying to tell. This is a road car engine that’s been asked to do the unthinkable.”

SpeedSource and Mazda have been in a constant state of development with its Multimatic-built Lola-based prototypes, with the focus primarily on cooling optimization for the 2.2-liter SKYACTIV-D powerplant.

A major turning point came at the fourth round of the season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May, when the No. 70 entry of Tom Long and SpeedSource team principal Sylvain Tremblay finished an impressive seventh overall.

The sister car of Joel Miller and Tristan Nunez, meanwhile, turned laps on par with the P class leaders before being collected in an early race accident.

While the last few rounds have seen further updates to the pair of factory entries, Doonan said the results haven’t necessarily been there to show the improved pace of the package.

“We continue to find ways to cool the car, so we can turn the wick up,” he said. “Obviously the Mazda Raceway event was a huge breakthrough for us. That was a big step for us and I think now there’s a lot of little steps.”

Doonan said one of the short-term goals is to roll out with a redesigned cylinder head, aimed to help improve cooling. Updates to the car’s intercooler, radiators and bodywork have also helped with the persistent heat issue.

Steps are also being made in chassis development, with the goal of creating a Mazda-specific chassis for the proposed new-for-2017 prototype regulations, budget-permitting.

“Multimatic has been fantastic in terms of throwing every resource they have at it,” Doonan said. “They are solely focused, at least on the prototype side, on this program. We’ve got a ton of attention there.

“As we look towards the 2017 regulations, which are being discussed, it’s interesting to try and forecast exactly where that’s going to end up.

“Obviously at Le Mans, we saw several new [P2] chassis, which you would guess they’re aligned with the ’17 rules but they’re obviously 2014 launches.

“We’re trying to be smart. We have an existing package. The engine obviously needs refinement. That’s why we put it into a [proven] chassis.”

If all goes to plan, Doonan hopes to begin customer sales and leases of the SKYACTIV-D powerplant by the end of next year.

However, it could very well be limited to teams in the TUDOR Championship, as diesel-powered engines are not currently ACO approved for LMP2 competition.

“We’ve continued to have that conversation [with the ACO] and I think their direction to us in late 2013 was to come here in ’14 and perform and allow them to collect data and see our progress.

“In our conversations with the [technical staff], they have patted us on the back in terms of what they’ve seen as progress.

“That doesn’t equal allowance to run the engine but it does allow the world to see that Mazda is serious about using top-level sports car racing as a way to showcase road car technology.”

If a return to Le Mans in LMP2 with the SKYACTIV-D isn’t possible, could Mazda look at mounting a LMP1 effort instead?

“With our history there, it’s always a discussion internally,” Doonan said about a return to Le Mans, in general. “It comes down to finding the right place, budget-wise, and finding the right story to tell with our production engines and our vehicle platforms. There’s a lot of unknowns.

“Frankly, to have won the race overall, you always want to think about going back there and trying to repeat that. But a pretty lofty target has been set by those who are competing there [in LMP1] right now.

“I don’t think it’s ever ruled out. Anybody at Mazda is always looking for the next challenge and dreaming of what it can be. We just have to keep our eyes on the best way to tell our story… and be able to pay for it!”

18 Comments

  1. Pat

    July 7, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Anyone wishing to burn money with nothing to show for it will buy a Mazda engine. That engine has a LONG way to go before anyone would be foolish enough to buy one.

    • Chris Whitfield

      July 7, 2014 at 11:32 am

      Agreed. They’d be better off selling the old P2 engine to customers as a short term option than the stone they have now.

  2. Jeff Wagner

    July 7, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Pat, It’s easy to cheep shot and criticize. I give them full credit for having the courage for doing the research and development in the spotlight and not privately, that takes courage. They are giving us fans the benefit of 2 more “REAL P2 PROTOTYPES” in the field, and we get to watch them improve and become more competitive each race and season. As a fan that is so interesting and exciting to watch unfold!!!

    • Bakkster

      July 7, 2014 at 12:27 pm

      Totally agree, it’s too early to write them off. They’ll need to improve before they can really land a customer, but I hope they reach that point. A diesel with a ton of torque might be exactly what they need to compete with the DPs.

      Though I will say that calling the 07′s laptimes “on par with the P class leaders” a bit optimistic. Their best lap on 122 was still 4s off what AXR had done on lap 5.

      • John Dagys

        July 7, 2014 at 12:54 pm

        The comment of “on par with P class leaders” was in reference to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, not Watkins Glen.

    • kabel

      July 8, 2014 at 10:30 am

      The current disorganized state of the uscc may actually be a benefit for Mazda as they work through the development of this program.

  3. Jeff Braun

    July 7, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    We are working our guts out to make gains each week. The cool thing for the fans is to see it in real time each week. If you looked close at Watkins Glen you saw a completely different cooling package from Detroit. You saw different ducting and air flow management. Then at Watkins Glen you saw changes made from session to session and both cars running different configurations to each other. Where in US racing does a fan get to see a development program shown like this. Normally this happens at closed tests and the car “just works” right away when fans first see it. Mazda and SpeedSource are displaying a process that no one ever gets to see done. I am proud to be a small part of that and hope the fans appreciate what Mazda is doing.

    • Chris Whitfield

      July 7, 2014 at 2:02 pm

      I applaud your efforts guys. I admire Mazda’s dedication to this technology and wish you guys all the best.

    • Nuno Rosario

      July 7, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      i actually cant wait until the cooling issues are resolved and you all turn the power up,because i believe in the car´s potencial
      lets face it,if audi can win with a diesel engine on LMP1,i sure as hell dont doubt madza can be good in LMP2
      just keep on fighting those problems,and keep on dreaming about that 1st win!

    • Jeff Wagner

      July 7, 2014 at 6:07 pm

      Any true fan would agree 100 percent and not criticize! I’m so thankful you guys are doing this the way you are. You will benefit too as you can’t duplicate race conditions in a test. CAN’T WAIT to see your beautiful “REAL P2 PROTOTYPES” at Mosport!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Jenner

        July 7, 2014 at 9:38 pm

        Wish the Deltawing guys would get kind of respect for doing what they’re doing.

    • Kirk

      July 8, 2014 at 3:09 pm

      I applaud Mazda’s efforts as well. It’s VERY hard to try something new. My only fear is that when they do get everything right and start to go fast that they’ll get BoP’d back to where IMSA says they belong – i.e behind the DPs.

      • Jeff Wagner

        July 8, 2014 at 11:46 pm

        Kirk you are right on the money. We all know if a “REAL P2 PROTOTYPE” gets near a DP car on the track that’s what happens.

  4. Jenner

    July 7, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    Only wish the Deltawing guys would get this kind of respect for doing what they’re doing.

    • Jeff Wagner

      July 7, 2014 at 11:44 pm

      I think the Deltawing will never be popular because of its look. However, I have 100% respect as a fan for all the hard work they put in and the pace they run. The concept does drives me crazy though because fans want the cars to have more power than the drivers can put to the ground! The reason why Can-Am is still raved about 40 years later.

  5. bernard and india walker

    July 10, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    Lemans any one . Whole season again !!

  6. bernard and india walker

    July 10, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Ok side joke Rules in F1 changing . No floating suspension sub sets (wink). First cooling the Juice was the HOTs now no drop it LOWW ! Lewis Hamilton 1 st place rocks the I’s wide open !!HUH

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