On the heels of Tuesday’s landmark announcement confirming the formation of Mazda Team Joest, Sportscar365 caught up with Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan to discuss details of the new program, as well as prospects of customer cars and a future return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
What went into the decision to move on from SpeedSource?
“If the words bittersweet can be used, this is the perfect analogy. Any time you have a 20-year relationship with an organization as a partner, it’s difficult to see it come to an end but I think more than the business relationship is personal relationships that have developed.
“For me personally, Sylvain, Nicole, his kids, my wife, we all are close in that regard. We’ve celebrated the highs and lows.
“From a business side, we also appreciate what they’ve done for us. To see a team from grassroots racing accomplish what they have is pretty awesome.
“Those two Rolex 24 trophies sit proudly in our offices at Mazda, and they delivered them for us.
“At the same time, we all talked all along throughout the process, Sylvain and I, about delivering results, and that’s what this new program is all about: putting Mazda on the top step and having Mazda fight it out at the front at all times and getting everybody aligned with that same laser focus.”
Have you ruled out a customer or some other type of program with SpeedSource in the future?
“Absolutely nothing’s ruled out. We understand their capabilities quite well. They’ve helped us with our historic programs, they’ve helped us with Continental ST and the MazdaSpeed3.
“Once a member of the Mazda family, always a member of the Mazda family.
“We don’t have any specific plans at this time to enter into a new project.
“We obviously have Global MX-5 Cup [with] Long Road Racing, we have Mazda Road to Indy with Anderson Promotions, now we have the Prototype program with Mazda Team Joest so I think we’re going to continue to look at ways to work with key partners to deliver results and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The talks with Joest began back in January, at Daytona?
“Yeah, that’s kind of how it all went together. Without taking a single amount of focus off of what we were currently doing, it was definitely like having two jobs because we were thinking about what we needed to do to put the program at the highest level of success and at the same time not take our eye off the ball of what we were currently doing.”
How has it been working with such a prestigious sports car racing team?
“From the moment I walked into their facility, from the moment I was on an airplane to visit them for the first time, it’s a boyhood dream type stuff.
“I’ve been a student of this game since I was born and my dad was racing sports cars. If you didn’t know who Team Joest was, you failed the test.
“I was in shock the first day I went there, pinching myself. I couldn’t believe I was at a table with these guys. And now, to have the partnership, is unbelievable.
“The chemistry from the first meeting, their understanding of what Mazda stands for, the fact that they have a huge following in Japan as a brand… it just all kind of fit together.
“We’ve known each other in the paddock for years, and then to be signing agreements together, it’s just a milestone day for Mazda.”
Given Joest’s success at Le Mans and Mazda’s desire to one day return to the race, does this open up an opportunity to do so with the Mazda DPi in the future?
“There’s no doubt that Joest’s experience with the WEC, Le Mans, DTM, everything that’s on their resume, is a reason to want to partner with one of the greatest of all time.
“Obviously the rules [currently] don’t allow for a DPi at Le Mans, so there’s no reason to take any focus off the ball currently by spending any second or minute thinking about Le Mans.
“Yes, if their rules changed and allowed for DPi-type cars to compete at Le Mans, it would be silly not to think about it.
“For right now, 100 percent focus on the IMSA championship in North America and having success here, and then we’ll see where the chips fall.”
Are plans for customer customer Mazda DPis put on hold for the time being?
“I would suggest that from the grassroots up, our vision is about customer racing and it always has been, but at the moment it’s on the back burner until we can get our current package to a place where we can give our customer teams a legitimate, well-refined package.
“I fear in spreading ourselves too thin and offering customer programs at the outset is just we’ll be exactly that: spread too thin.
“Our focus is just getting this package to be successful and then I’d love to see customer teams and more Mazdas on the grid and that’s what I think the DPi formula allows for.
“It hearkens back to, I think we’re entering the heyday of IMSA again, but I think back to my boyhood days of IMSA in the 80’s when there were so many customer chassis available, I’d like to see us get back to that.”
So do you think 2019, at the earliest, would be a realistic target for customer cars?
“Yeah I’d say that’s a very accurate statement. Once we feel like we’re prepared, we’ll get after it.”