As a lifelong fan of the Indianapolis 500 and all the immense history that has been produced for more than 100 years, Mazda Motorsports boss John Doonan (pictured above) views the IndyCar Grand Prix weekend in a different light than most who attend the event.
All three steps on the Mazda Road to Indy were present at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where doubleheader events for USF2000, Pro Mazda, and Indy Lights underscored the training platform that builds next-generation Verizon IndyCar Series stars.
Six races over two days at racing’s epicenter – it’s a yearly reminder for Doonan of how his passion for Indy and his love for grooming the next Josef Newgardens and James Hinchcliffes can co-exist at the same event.
“To give these drivers the chance to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on such a huge weekend is a critical step of the process and the season,” he told RACER. “We have always believed that more actual races over the course of a season is very important to a driver’s developmental process. Starts, restarts, and working through challenging situations builds their resumes and their character. From driver’s meetings with IndyCar officials, to pre-race and podium procedures, to the races themselves…there is nothing else like it anywhere else in the world, and to have it all in one place at IMS is always humbling.”
Seven Indy Lights champions were among the 24 starters in Saturday’s Indy Grand Prix, and more than half the field used Mazda-powered open-wheel cars on their way to IndyCar. The pride contained within Doonan for all the MRTI has become was also evident throughout the Indy GP as he handed trophies to all manner of driving talent.
“Major League Baseball has Little League and the Triple A system, and the top levels of motorsports have Mazda with our Mazda Road to Indy and also the Mazda Road to 24 in sports cars,” he added. “The statistics speak for themselves, with such a huge percentage of drivers at the top of the industry having spent time with Mazda in our driver development program. The system works and we are so proud to have provided these opportunities for so many young men and women.”
More than $2 million in advancement scholarship funds set aside by Mazda await the USF2000, Pro Mazda, and Indy Lights champions at the end of the season. And like the head of any quality college-level athletic program, Doonan sees the MRTI as more of a scholastic experience than simply a driver training system.
“We have focused on providing a consistent and very clear path to the top…trying to train and build the ‘complete package’ in media relations, race craft, engineering, the business of motorsports, fitness and nutrition,” he said. “Supporting young drivers in this way is important to Mazda because the driving side is only part of the complete puzzle. Our mission is to improve the complete person in and out of the car.
“We are the gatekeepers of the dreams of young men and women who aspire to be race car drivers. Ultimately our objective is to allow people to achieve their best self–and feel alive while doing so. And in supporting their careers, at this stage, we are doing just that.”