John Doonan will serve as IMSA’s next president. The former Mazda Motorsports director takes over from Scott Atherton, who presided over the American Le Mans Series throughout its lifespan, engineered the merger of the ALMS and NASCAR’s Grand-Am Rolex Series, and led the reformed IMSA series when it launched in 2014.
“John is a fantastic choice to become our next president, to build upon the momentum of our just completed 50th anniversary season and take our sport to the next level,” said Ed Bennett, IMSA chief executive officer. “He is respected, well known in our paddock, and brings a strong passion for motorsport that will greatly benefit everyone involved.”
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime and dream opportunity after attending IMSA races since I was young boy,” Doonan said. “I am very humbled and truly honored to have the opportunity to join the IMSA team and I’m really looking forward to making a positive impact for our sport, our partners and our industry.”
In Doonan, IMSA receives one of the most passionate and loyal figures in North American motor racing. The diversity of Doonan’s experience in leading a factory racing division is perfectly suited for IMSA’s short- and long-term needs.
Annual budgeting across a variety of championships, staffing his department, hiring dozens of vendors to support Mazda’s racing endeavors, branding and marketing for those efforts, and finding sponsorship and corporate partners to support its factory programs have been part of Doonan’s role. All will be pressed into service with haste as IMSA’s new leader.
After joining Mazda North American Operations in 2003 as its Midwest advertising manager, Doonan was promoted to manage its moribund competition department in 2005, where the Illinois native began crafting plans to restore the brand’s standing in motorsports with plans both big and small.
An American Le Mans Series LMP2 effort was developed, along with a customer sales program in Grand-Am’s Rolex Series where the Riley-built RX-8 GT became a championship-winning model. Grassroots support was another area where Doonan made significant investments on behalf of Mazda through its Mazdaspeed outfit, as cash prizes, parts, and contingency awards given for those racing Spec Miatas and other production-based Mazdas in the SCCA, NASA, and mid-tier professional series were amplified.
During Doonan’s 17-year tenure at Mazda, the brand’s commitment to racing prototypes remained as its LMP2 program transitioned from the ALMS to IMSA, and with a change in factory teams, and an increase in technical support from key partners, Mazda Team Joest became a regular winner in 2019, earning three consecutive WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victories while drawing from a comparatively modest budget.
Doonan’s most impressive feat to date could be the formation of the Mazda Road to Indy. The groundbreaking open-wheel ladder system made use of Mazda engines and, more importantly, delivered critical funding to the champions at each of the three tiers each year. Despite being shelved by the brand at the end of 2018, the Mazda Road to Indy ensured the most talented young drivers were rewarded for their success, and in turn, almost 75 percent of the Indianapolis 500 grid in recent years has been comprised of Mazda Road to Indy graduates.