Dissatisfaction is a powerful motivator, as Mazda Motorsports boss John Doonan can attest.
Encouraging signs were found during the relaunch of the brand’s IMSA DPi program in 2018 under the Mazda Team Joest moniker, but the ultimate prize — wins in the hotly contested Prototype class — slipped from MTJ’s grasp.
The lingering frustration has been put to good use so far during the brief offseason for WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teams. With a firm understanding of where improvements must be made with its RT24-P DPis and the team that fields both entries, the tone of optimism that accompanies most of Doonan’s comments about the project has changed in subtle ways.
There’s a sharper note to discern — one that says the margin of error that was accepted while the new MTJ effort was formed has been removed. An intensity of purpose has been presented as the correct mindset to adopt.
“To a person, when you end the season on a high note with two cars on the podium like we did at Petit Le Mans, everyone felt good and everyone’s flame has gotten stronger. And they’ve also realized we need to raise our game because we aren’t where we want to be,” he told RACER.
“Everybody that touches the car feels that way. We’ve gotten close to where we belong, but we can’t let getting close allow anyone to confuse a podium for being next-up to win. That part’s earned, not given to us. There’s momentum coming out of the 2018 season, but we didn’t ring the victory bell, so we need to keep raising our game. The best thing I’ve seen is a recognition of this; the will to win is stronger than it’s ever been. Right now, it’s improving attention to detail in all facets of the program that matters, and that’s all.”
A recent three-day test in Spain with the latest version of the RT24-P went as well as Doonan could have hoped; upgrades to the DPi’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo’s internals were made in the name of heightened reliability, and with more miles logged on the new Michelin Prototype tires, MTJ has made quiet strides to meet Doonan’s goals.
Another byproduct of the occasionally rough 2018 season has come in the form of tighter bonds between the program’s key partners. Engine supplier AER, chassis and technical R&D firm Multimatic, the Joest Racing organization, and Mazda Motorsports have, according to Doonan, held each other more accountable for delivering on the promise evident within the MTJ effort.
“There have been more emails, more conference calls, more texts, and more face-to-face meetings following a season than I’ve ever seen,” he said. “The unification of all the partners is more than we’ve ever had, and everyone has skin in the game.
“Everyone wants mutual success, and they want their spoke of the wheel to be the strongest it can be. No excuses. All the partners have linked arms, in the name of Mazda, and what we’ve trying to achieve is in the best interest of the whole, not the individual players. It’s remarkable and it’s what it needs to be.”