Motor sport big business for Mazda

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It's a nice little earner for MAZDASPEED and its parent, but in a smaller market like Australia the business case for selling competition parts across the counter is harder to justify, suggests Mazda Australia's Public Relations Manager, Steve Maciver.

"It's a different scenario here," Maciver told motoring.com.au. "There's a much smaller number of people participating [in motor sport] here."

Allied with that is Mazda Australia's status as "a fairly lean organisation," which discourages business development in areas unlikely to show more or less immediate profit.

While cars like the MX-5 and Mazda3 MPS are popular in Australia for club-level track events, the brand's penetration in motor sport circles here cannot compare in any way with what Mazda has achieved in the US. In California for the launch of the Mazda3 last week, Australian journalists were treated to an informative run-down of the American motor sport scene and Mazda's part in it by MAZDASPEED Motorsports Communications Officer, Dean Case – seemingly the only bloke at Mazda who appreciates Australia's V8 Supercars series.

Case began by explaining that NASCAR (oval track racing) and the NHRA (drag racing) amount to the lio's share of motor sport activity in the US. But what remains (ALMS, Grand-Am, SCCA and NASA, to name a few) is roundly dominated by Mazda. The Japanese brand may hold just two per cent of American market share for new-car sales, but on the race track in those series mentioned, the Mazda badge outguns Toyota, Nissan and Honda combined for a 'market share' of around 50 per cent.

Probably the standard bearer for Mazda in American motor sport is the MX-5, which can be put on the track for USD $47,000 – including the purchase price of the car – but could earn a winning driver in the MX-5 Cup Championship as much as $250,000. That's potentially a 500 per cent return on investment for the winning driver.

According to Case, reasons for Mazda participating actively in motor sport competition include durability/reliability monitoring, technology transfer and enhanced brand management. And then there's the revenue to be earned from selling parts too, of course.

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In 2013 Mazda competes in, or supports and sponsors nine different categories of motor sport, with club-level racing at the base of the pyramid. The two forms of club-level racing are represented by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) or the National Auto Sports Association (NASA). Mazda is the SCCA's official brand. This type of racing is often a feeder for the MX-5 Cup, the IMSA Sports Car Prototypes Lites category (cars powered by 2.0-litre MZR engines), Grand-Am ST production cars and Grand-Am GX (silhouette formula).

This year the Mazda6 has been campaigning in Grand-Am GX racing. After an unfortunate start – a DNF at Daytona – the diesel-powered car placed second in the next two rounds and won the subsequent four rounds. With five more rounds remaining, the Mazda6 is in a strong position to win the championship, Case believes. The race cars share many of the components with the production cars, but the output has been raised from 175hp and 310lb-ft to 400hp and 450lb-ft. Mazda has knocked back the compression ratio from 14:1 to 12.5:1 and the rev limit has been lowered from 5200 to 4900rpm.

Mazda's turbocharged 2.0-litre MZR engine powered the winning team and driver in ALMS (American Le Mans Series) P1, and the company was the winning manufacturer also.

The company is also heavily represented in open-wheeler categories of different types – sometimes as a sponsor, sometimes as an engine supplier. Young Aussie Matthew Brabham, grandson of Sir Jack, won the Pro Mazda championship in USF2000 last year. The first rung of the ladder is karting, with upward steps via Formula Mazda, the Skip Barber Series, USF2000 (2.0-litre MZR engines), Pro Mazda (RX-8 rotary engines), and Indy Lights, which is sponsored by Mazda.

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It sounds like a real success story for Mazda, but the various categories of motor sport in America have experienced peaks and troughs since the Global Financial Crisis, Case explained. Indy car racing has reunited, the Atlantic Championship has "faded away", the Miller Mustang Cup and the VW TDI Cup were both created and killed off in the same period, and Formula BMW ceased. Motor sport's swings and roundabouts were reflected throughout the broader industry also, as Case pointed out, with GM and Chrysler reborn after bankruptcy; Jaguar, Land Rover, Saab and Volvo all sold; and Ford selling off its share in Mazda barring 3.5 per cent.

But the recent stability across the motor sport spectrum may be taken as a sign that the wider US economy is recovering – and Americans are returning to the sport(s) they love.

 

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Article by Ken Gratton
www.motoring.com.au