For iconic motorsports brands from across the country and around the world, racing isn’t just a way to collect trophies or show superiority when it comes to manufacturing ability. While part of why they do it, racing and the opportunities it presents for brands like Mazda is about being able to fine tune their innovation on the track before rolling it out to the cars that moms, dads, and normal people will drive to and from sports and work.
Domestically, IMSA has been able to provide these manufacturers with the playground and competition to test their latest and greatest technology against some of the world’s leading automakers.
Mazda seems to agree.
For Mazda, IMSA — while the pinnacle of racing for the brand — is a small part of its overall racing program, which traces its roots to a robust grassroots strategy.
“That’s really the foundation of our whole business because we sell competition and stock parts to that community,” said John Doonan, director of motorsports for Mazda North America. “The revenue and profit off of that allows us to then to come to IMSA and compete at the highest levels.”
Recently, manufacturers have been able to benefit even further from participation in IMSA due to the fact that the sports car racing sanctioning body began allowing the Prototype cars that compete in its premier IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship to have a front design profile that looks similar to that of the cars driven on the streets.
“Thank goodness IMSA gave us the opportunity to bring our designers, the same designers that design road cars, and allow them to design a prototype race car,” mentioned Doonan when talking about the importance of a similar look. “If you pull a Mazda 6 or one of our SUVs right up next to the DPi car, you can see the brand design language in the front of the vehicle.”
Why, in the grand scheme of things, is having a race car that looks like a normal car so important for Doonan and Mazda? It allows for them to have a 360-degree brand integration opportunity while onsite at IMSA races.
“We’ve got all of our product here, we have a ride and drive going on and we have cars on the track that, at least from the front, look like the cars we produce for consumers. The goal is for people to sample our current product and make that connection between being at the race track watching Mazda’s race and wanting to put a Mazda in their driveway.”
If, in fact, those who attend the race end up putting a Mazda in their driveway, chances are that some of the technological innovations from the car on the track end up inside the car they take to the store.
While everything that’s in the Prototype car may not make it into the streetcar, the opportunity for Mazda designers to have what would amount to a real-world testing ground gives the company the chance to try things in a live setting.
“One of the things that they’re doing now is an interior study,” Doonan said. “Our designers see the interior of this car as a potential laboratory for the future in road car interiors and they actually have built a design book that they’re using as a showcase future steering wheel and hand control, and a heads-up display. Things like that that we could certainly test here in a racing environment and then potentially someday be in a road car.”
Their involvement in the series also allows for the brand to further educate their dealer employees on the history of Mazda and why racing is so important to the brand.
A great incentive, Doonan and the team tie the experience back to making sure that everyone from the people at the top to the dealers know how to tell the Mazda story.
“We try to get them out here and have them experience the sights, the sounds, the noise, the smells, and then also have them realize that the story that we’re telling about people having a relationship with their car is at its best here at the racetrack where drivers are strapping in and doing the unthinkable with our race cars.”
It is this story that is key to not only the success of the brand, but the brand being thought of as a leader in the space — and a car that goes beyond getting drivers from point A to point B. At the end of the day, this is one of the most important aspects to what Doonan and his team do.
“Mazda has positioned (itself) as not an every person’s car. As the brand has evolved, we’ve tried to obviously match what we do at the race track, which allows us to build a brand and position it such that people have Mazda on their shopping list when it comes to several different segments.”