When Mazda’s director of motorsports John Doonan left to head up IMSA after Scott Atherton left, the automaker had to find a suitable replacement. Mazda not only has programs in professional motorsports, such as MX-5 Cup, SRO and IMSA, but also an extensive footprint in amateur racing. The marketing message that more Mazdas are road-raced on any given weekend than any other brand of car, is as much a mantra as it is a mission. No other OEM offers more programs and discounts and benefits to amateur racers than Mazda, and they fall under Cosgrove’s purview.
“I’m honored and excited to start this new role with Mazda,” said Cosgrove, in a statement released by the company. “Mazda has a storied history in motorsports and a strong presence with IMSA, MX-5 Cup and grassroots programs. The brand had a lot of success in 2019, highlighted by the Mazda Team Joest three-race win streak, and I’m very much looking forward to beginning my work with the Mazda Motorsports team and preparing for the 2020 racing season.”
We caught up with Cosgrove and posed a few questions to him shortly after he returned from the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, where the team finished second.
Q: First of all, congratulations on Mazda Team Joest’s performance at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Pole position, a lap record and a second-place finish was pretty strong. You’ve worked in the top tiers of racing, with positions at Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. What are the most notable differences between working for racing teams and working on the OEM side?
A: There are a couple big differences. First the shear pace of working on the team side is amazing. The amount of change that occurs in such a short period of time can be inspiring. On the OEM side, I was able to work on a wider variety of projects that are just not possible with a race team.
Q: Speaking of OEMs, you’ve worked for Ford and Toyota Racing Development. What was it that drew you to the director of motorsports position at Mazda, a smaller automotive manufacturer with less of a global footprint than Ford and Toyota?
A: I was attracted to the wide range of motorsports that Mazda was engaged in, from the grassroots programs all the way to the IMSA DPi. Mazda has a small team where everyone can have a big impact.
Q: When you took over as director of motorsports, Mazda had just debuted its Mazda3 TCR program. How is that going so far? What can we look forward to in 2020?
A: We encountered some development challenges on the Mazda3 TCR that unfortunately forced us to delay the competition side of the program until 2021. We have entered an additional phase of testing and development on the car and look forward to seeing the car competing on track next year.
Q: What were some of the more notable differences when moving from Toyota Racing Development to Mazda Motorsports?
A: One of the biggest differences is Mazda’s support in grassroots racing. From the relationship-building that David Cook does and the technical development of the car specifications that Josh Smith handles for us, Mazda has so many areas of the grassroots racing community covered. Scott Kaluza and all his guys in Irvine (Calif.) do a great job providing sales and technical support.
Q: You had to hit the ground running when you hired on in November, with testing and preparations for the 24 Hours of Daytona. Have you had much of a chance to become familiar with the grassroots side of things?
A: I have relied on our great team on the grassroots side to get me up to speed on all of our activities. As we move into the season, I hope to get out and experience it firsthand.
Q: What surprised you most about Mazda Motorsports’ grassroots racing?
A: I was really surprised by the depth of experience and expertise that we have on our competition parts team. I really feel that this group is so unique in the world of OEM motorsports. They really have a passion for seeing Mazdas run on track every weekend.
Q: The automobile industry, and motorsports by extension, are in the midst of massive global change, if not upheaval. What do you see as the biggest challenges to amateur and professional motorsports today?
A: I think that one of the biggest challenges is to remain accessible both financially and from an opportunity point of view. As an industry, we need to make sure that people can enjoy our cars in a competitive environment that can be somewhat affordable. This is why all of the MX-5-based programs are important to us.
Q: Everybody wants to know the answer to this question, but none of us has a crystal ball. What do you see as some of the things that must be done to keep motorsports relevant in the public sphere at the grassroots and professional levels?
A: I really feel that people need to engage in it firsthand. It is important to give people the opportunity to experience motorsports both as a fan at a track or as a participant at a track day event. It is the sights, the sounds, and the smells that get you hooked.
Q: You’re educated as a mechanical engineer, and you’ve worked on the nuts-and-bolts side of racing for decades. How does that experience inform you in your duties as director of motorsports, on the business and organizational side of things?
A: I have actually been involved in the senior management staff on both the race team and OEM side for some time now. When the teams were small, you needed to wear many different hats. I think that all of my experiences from running vehicle dynamics simulations to staring at data coming off the car at the track just add more tools to the toolbox for problem solving. My engineering background kind of forces me to be data driven.
Q: Have you purchased your very own Spec Miata yet?
A: Ha! Not yet. I have only had time to do a little rental karting with my boys in Mooresville (N.C.)