Excitement and anticipation are building for the 2023 season, when BMW, Audi and Porsche will enter the future LMDh category in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship along with prototype holdovers Acura and Cadillac. But one traditional prototype competitor won’t be joining those marques for IMSA’s next era.
Mazda Motorsports announced in February that its successful RT24-P that competes in the current Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class would be retired at the end of the 2021 season.
Mazda is realigning its motorsports involvement, focusing on its role as a North American leader in grassroots racing. That includes the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires, the exciting and ultra-competitive entry-level sports car series that featured 10 races decided by less than 0.6 seconds this season in its first year under IMSA sanction.
The Mazda DPi program, along with operational partner Multimatic Motorsports, went out on a high note. After falling three laps behind while diagnosing and repairing a faulty spark plug, Harry Tincknell took the lead in the season finale, the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, with just 22 minutes remaining in the 10-hour endurance classic last month. The No. 55 Mazda co-driven by Oliver Jarvis and Jonathan Bomarito went on to take the checkered flag and win its final race.
“That was not an easy win, but we raced hard until the very end of that race,” said Mo Murray, who stepped into the leadership role at Mazda Motorsports prior to the 2021 season. “It was really almost like a fairytale way to end the program — the way we won the race, the way we came from three laps down thanks to the leadership on the pit box from (Multimatic vice president) Larry Holt and (engineer) Leena Gade. It was just an exceptional way to end the program — very gratifying and rewarding.
“‘Don’t ever give up’ absolutely resonates with the Mazda brand the idea that you do not take your foot off the gas until you’ve passed the checkered flag.”
Mazda has always marched to the beat of a different drummer — or more accurately, a different power plant.
Mazda’s sedan-based racers in the 1970s and the RX-7 and RX-8 that were mainstays of the GTU category all utilized rotary engines, and the prototype Mazda campaigned from 2014-16 was diesel powered.
The attractive but more conventional RT24-P prototype debuted in 2017, and after a difficult initial campaign, Joest Racing took over mechanical development of the car in 2018 and ’19. Bomarito and Tincknell scored Mazda’s first DPi win at Watkins Glen International in 2019, and the RT24-P achieved an additional six wins in IMSA competition. Multimatic has served as Mazda’s engineering partner since 2020.
John Doonan, now IMSA’s president, was director of Mazda Motorsports from 2011-2019. He paid tribute to the Mazda’s North American racing heritage at Michelin Raceway.
“It’s bittersweet,” Doonan said. “I grew up a Mazda fan from when I was a little boy and had the opportunity to work with the brand I fell in love with. There has been a Mazda in almost every race in the 51-year history of IMSA, with so many great moments … the first win at Lime Rock in 1973, through the RS days, the GTU days and eventually prototypes.
“So, I’m sad to see them end the prototype program, both from a personal and an IMSA standpoint,” he added. “The MX-5 Cup puts on a great show every weekend, and I’m glad we’re keeping that in our portfolio. It shows they’re not going away forever.”
Murray is a native of Ireland who has worked in two- and four-wheeled motorsports since the 1980s. After starting out in a mechanical role, he moved into a series of marketing and managerial positions, giving him the perfect skill set to take over direction of the Mazda DPi program while refining Mazda Motorsports’ future direction.
Mazda officials are extremely proud that, on any given weekend, there are more Mazdas racing (and winning) than any other automotive brand. According to the SCCA, Mazda makes up 55 percent of all cars racing on any given weekend.
That’s why Murray says Mazda’s retreat from the prototype ranks in no way reflects a lessening of the brand’s commitment to racing.
“This is not a strategic withdrawal or backing away from motorsports,” Murray said. “It’s simply a tactical decision, that the relationship of the prototype program to our brand is now being outweighed by the relationship with other programs — MX-5 Cup and our grassroots program — and what the brand needs, which are around creating a community of people living their best life through motorsports.
“That’s so important to Mazda,” he continued. “That’s the real core of why we do this. Mazda has a deep belief that through all its initiatives, but certainly through motorsports, we have an opportunity to allow people to live out their dreams, to live out their best life. For people that want to drive a race car, we want to be the enabler of that dream, the brand that allows them access to go chase their dream.”
Doonan, who spent 16 years working for Mazda, believes the marque will eventually return to the WeatherTech Championship.
“I think it’s ‘goodbye for now,’” he said. “Mazda appreciates the love of driving, and how motorsports can leverage that brand and help it grow, especially among the enthusiast audience. The size of their brand in the marketplace is no comparison to their heart and their passion.”