While Mazda continues the development program of its SKYACTIV prototype in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, the manufacturer is also planning for the future, particularly with the arrival of new LMP2 regulations for 2017.
Speaking with Sportscar365, Mazda Motorsports North America Director John Doonan confirmed their intentions of continuing in the top-tier Prototype division in the U.S., although the full scope of the program has yet to be fully defined or approved.
“We want to plan to the 2017 regulations and bring something that can compete at the front for wins and podiums and championships,” Doonan told Sportscar365. “We have commitments overall to continue to develop, and obviously you have to develop to the rules.”
Mazda arrived on the sports car racing scene with SKYACTIV diesel technology in 2013, as the first of a five-year program, initially with the Mazda6 GX car before making its P class debut last year with the SpeedSource Lola-based prototypes.
Doonan along with SpeedSource team principal Sylvain Tremblay have played an active role in recent manufacturer meetings, which has seen the proposed 2017 regulations evolve, particularly with open engines and manufacturer-specific bodywork styling cues for the TUDOR Championship.
“We participated in the manufacturer meeting at IMSA’s headquarters in Daytona,” Doonan said. “It was a great discussion and reinforced for me and Mazda that the potential to do manufacturer design cues will be allowed here in the U.S., which is exciting.
“Without any program approvals or anything like that, I immediately met with our design team to start discussions. They’ve always been very involved in what we do, from the way the branding on the car looks.
“Even back to the Furai concept car in 2008, we had a keen interest in trying to bring in some of Mazda’s design language to the [race] car. Now that it has become one of the main message points, I’m excited about that.”
The biggest question at the moment is on the engine front, with Mazda’s 2.2-liter SKYACTIV turbo diesel doubtful of being eligible under the new ruleset due to a likely move to gasoline-only engines for the P2 platform worldwide.
However, with the TUDOR Championship set to embrace multiple engine manufacturers, it still provides Mazda a platform to compete, but with what engine?
“We’re having major strategy discussions about right now,” Doonan said. “Diesels are going to be relevant for a couple more years but what can we do? Can we develop a bespoke motor?
“You [can] start with a road car engine, which is our story. That’s a difficult path, as we’ve proven here, but it also helps us find the limits of those components.
“Years ago, we developed a bespoke engine with AER and ran it from ’07 until 2012. There’s that existing motor. Do we work with a new partner? We’re in the midst of looking at all kinds of options.”
Doonan even hasn’t ruled out a switch to a gasoline-powered engine for next year, in order to possibly get a jump start on 2017, although he said a decision has yet to be made.
“If what we’re doing here doesn’t help the marketing and communications story around the brand or a specific nameplate or diesel launch, it shouldn’t be done,” he said.
“That’s the biggest reason to continue what we’re doing. The diesel has already launched in Europe and Japan. As the plans for a diesel road car in the U.S. continue to develop, I’d love, for whatever we do, to be supporting that.
“At the moment, we’re committed to running the rest of ’15 with diesel. I’m hoping to get some more direction from the executive teams in the next couple of weeks.”
There are also multiple options on the table for Mazda’s 2017 chassis, something that could largely hinge on what manufacturers become approved constructors under the new tender process.
While SpeedSource and Mazda currently have close links with Toronto-based Multimatic, they’ve also previously worked with Riley Technologies, another North American constructor that’s also expected to be placing a bid.
“Cleary we support them and their endeavors to do that,” Doonan said. “We’re not working jointly on them with anything except on this current project right now. But we would certainly love to see their talent.
“It needs to be a viable business for all these entities… Riley, Multimatic, you name it. My hope that would be whoever gets chosen can make a viable business out of it and support manufacturer programs at the same time.”
And with the ability to take their chassis and engine combination to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Doonan said it’s something else that’s also under serious consideration for the future.
“I think overall we have made a strategy decision that running for overall victories in the U.S. is important,” he said. “We’re running the pinnacle sports car program for the company here in the U.S.
“But the idea that the U.S. program could represent the brand globally at Le Mans is very intriguing. Obviously Mazda has huge history there.
“The reasons we do this is to build the brand, to showcase technology, to develop young drivers.
“We have a lot of the components. We just need to make sure the activity creates value to the brand and there’s a lot floating out there that we can take advantage of.”