New Mazda Motorsports director Nelson Cosgrove has set his sights on IMSA’s biggest prizes during his first year atop the brand’s factory racing program.
The former Ford, Team Penske, and Toyota Racing Development engineer brings a wealth of hardcore competition experience to the role at Mazda, and it will be needed if its RT24-P DPis are going to take down Acura and Cadillac at January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, or October’s Petit Le Mans.
“We’re going to build on the momentum that we had this year with the three wins and the three poles,” Cosgrove said in his first interview after taking the reins from John Doonan. “And I think the goal — I would love to see us be able to win one of the longer races (next) year, which eluded us. I watched from the Lexus side of it over the last few years, while I’ve been at the track, (and) I think it’s going to be — it’d be great to finally break through and win one of the longer races.
“I know we’ve been working really hard. We’ve run at Daytona and Sebring already, and we’re getting ready to run another test at Daytona. So, we’re after it. I’m trying to try to get it sorted out where we can hit the ground running.”
Moving through an increasing number of technical roles that involve planning, budgeting, and managing on the team or manufacturer front, Cosgrove brings a different set of tools to Mazda than his predecessor, who brought marketing, promotions and grassroots racing experience to the brand. Although the majority of Cosgrove’s time in the sport has been spent outside of sports cars, decades of top-tier racing knowledge should lend new and different skills to Mazda’s racing department.
“I really didn’t know John (Doonan), but I got to know him in the second half of the summer, honestly; and it’s real clear to me that those are huge shoes to fill,” he said. “I’m a relative newcomer in sports car racing. I did quite a bit in IndyCar, and then I’ve spent the last 20 years in NASCAR; but we got involved in a sports car program about four years ago. That was my entry into sports car racing and I really loved it. It’s a departure from what I’ve been used to, and I was looking for something for as a change.
“And although I wasn’t looking for a new job, (the Mazda role) came to me as kind of an eye-opening opportunity. I’m getting older, and these opportunities aren’t going to come around very often. Having said that, I have been super fortunate to be at organizations at the right time in their history, and I will put that down more to luck than anything else. I was at Penske South (in NASCAR) and I had a pretty good time. I rode the Joe Gibbs (NASCAR) train where we grew it — it was explosive growth in those years and we grew that company massively. And I think that team is pretty happy with where everything is.
“I was on the Toyota and NASCAR projects for the last 12 years. So, coming into this, I come from a background in running technical organizations, and the Toyota juggernaut’s pretty big. But this is a totally different role. I’m excited about it. I’ve not had the opportunity to really work with the OEM, this side of it, where it’s such an integrated piece of what Mazda does. That’s pretty exciting.”
Although Mazda’s DPi effort stands above its other programs in terms of luster, Cosgrove will also need to dive into the support, development, and sales of the new Mazda3 TCR; shape the growing popularity with the brand’s Global MX-5 Cup championship; and maintain Mazda’s unique bond with club racers throughout North America. To do so, Cosgrove will need to shift his approach from being elbow-deep in the garage to leading through policy and oversight which, as he recognizes, will take time to master.
“I was pulling gearbox parts out of the floor with (AIM with Vasser Sullivan IMSA Lexus co-owner) Jimmy Vasser six weeks ago, so I’ve been a hands-on guy,” he said. “I’m the first guy that tries to lay the carbon in the mold; that’s part of my background that I’ve loved. But one of the things that (Mazda NA CEO Masahiro Moro) actually was looking for and what he told me was he was looking for was somebody that’s pretty hands-off.
“I was super impressed by him when I met him,” Cosgrove continued. “I couldn’t believe he spent an hour with me, which for him is a huge amount of time given his role and what he’s got going on every day. I feel like I’ve got to have my hands in stuff. I feel like I want to be part of the, team and the growth of what we do; I have a really hard time standing back and not being involved and maybe that’s okay. I’ve got to spread myself a little bit in this role, and that’s part of the growth.”
Cosgrove’s first day on the job last month coincided with reports of an impending split between Mazda and Team Joest, one of its key DPi service providers. With significant change on the horizon — a move made prior to Doonan’s departure for his new post as IMSA’s president — Cosgrove will oversee the upcoming transition from Joest to Multimatic as the team behind Mazda’s DPi effort.
Until the formal parting of ways takes place (which is set to happen after Sebring unless a buyout is completed prior to Daytona in January), the program will return under the Mazda Team Joest banner.
“Right now, we will be racing at the Rolex and for the 2020 season as Mazda Team Joest,” added Tim Olson, Mazda’s PR program manager. “That is where we are right now. As far as future stuff goes, we don’t talk about what the future holds, and we definitely don’t talk about any current ongoing contracts.”
Catch the rest of the conversation with Cosgrove, including his thoughts on Mazda’s wide-ranging support of grassroots racers in the SCCA and NASA, below: