Mazda Champion: Darryl Wills, Formula Mazda

Darryl Wills may not have raced everything, but as he rattles off the list – flat track, motocross, offroad and road racing on two wheels; sprint cars, drag racing, offroad and sports cars on four – it sure seems like it. So it seems almost unlikely that a Formula Mazda, spotted during a visit to the Houston Grand Prix, would grab his fancy. But it did and it sure seems to have paid off.

Wills, a computer consultant from Houston, raced his Hillenburg Motorsports/Hoosier Tire Star Formula Mazda to his third SCCA Formula Mazda National Championship in 2013, and third in the last four years. Although he bought his Formula Mazda 13 years ago and raced it for three or four years, he put it aside for a while. But in the past five years he not only has won at the Runoffs three times at Road America, he’s also scored two Super Sweeps – which require winning a Majors conference championship, one of 10 key Majors races, the national points championship and the Runoffs – and two Triple Crowns – a Division title, a June Sprints win and the National Championship.

“Preparation is key – preparing the car, preparing me,” he says of his success. “Being a student of the sport, I’m constantly learning, always looking for weakness in my own program. I seek out the counsel of others, both in setup and driving. I make sure that I maintain a level of fitness. The Formula Mazda isn’t real physically demanding, but you still have to maintain a certain level of fitness just so you don’t fatigue mentally.”

Wills was out front at the Runoffs long before he had the chance to tire, although a 20-minute race stoppage for a first-lap wreck delayed his move. Starting third, he got by polesitter Doug Peterson by passing him on the outside of The Carousel on the third lap, a move that earned him the GoPro Hero Move of the Race.

“The Runoffs started off good,” says Wills. “We were fast right off the truck. The only bad part is we didn’t get much track time. But I’ve been there enough, I pretty much knew what worked. I have to give a shout out to my engineer Dave McMillan. We were able to really dial the car in with limited track time. I had an issue in qualifying that put me in P3, which wasn’t indicative of the car’s performance.

“In the race, I got out front on the third lap and built an almost 15-second gap. The car ran absolutely flawlessly.”

Wills spent partof this year working with Hoosier and Hawk Performance helping develop some products for Formula Mazda. “It gave me the opportunity to work on the engineering side of the sport, which I really enjoy – the setup and exploiting what we have on track.” He also credits the Hoosier tires and their immediate grip with helping him win his third championship.

His success in Formula Mazda over the past few years led to an opportunity to do some Indy Lights races in 2012. He has interest in putting together an Indy Lights program for 2014 in addition to continuing his Club Racing program, although his aim at doing so isn’t the same as most of the competitors.

“I don’t feel like at 52-years old I’m giving up anything, especially going to a new tire and new shock,” he says. “We’d like to go out there and prove our team’s worth. I want to turn in good results with the team and get in a situation where we attract several really good drivers that want to be a part of our program. I’d continue in the capacity of team principal and bring some of the young drivers up.”

Look for Wills at SCCA Majors races across the U.S. in 2014 and at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca next October – and, if it all comes together, at some Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races as well.