At Sebring International Raceway, with a full complement of Mazda racers on hand, Mazda announced the latest addition to its driver development program, a partnership with iRacing. This newly formed partnership enables the best of iRacing’s 50,000 online racers in North America, most of who have raced a virtual MX-5 Cup car, a chance to race an actual Mazda MX-5 Cup car the following year.
iRacing competitors competing in the 2014 iRacing MX-5 Cup season beginning April 29th will be eligible to compete in the annual Mazda Club Racing Shootout held each fall. The shootout winner earns a Mazda Motorsports scholarship for the following year’s Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich® Tires. Complete details are posted at iRacing.com.
“We have talked continually about ways we can engage the younger fan, the younger buyer or younger enthusiast,” says John Doonan, Director of Motorsports for Mazda North American Operations. “iRacing is not a video game; it is a comprehensive, best-in-the-world, industry-leading simulator. As we look to grow our program, and specifically around MX-5 Cup, that was a way to take people that are strictly driving simulators and move them into a real racecar.”
It can also provide the club racer who may not have the resources to race a national championship-caliber car the opportunity to earn a spot in the Club Racer Shootout, Doonan notes. He also relates the authenticity of the iRacing simulator with an anecdote: “Last year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Elliot Skeer went out and qualified his MX-5 Cup car and as a literal back-to-back comparison, we brought him immediately to our consumer display and [on the iRacing simulator] he was within one tenth of a second of his qualifying time. It’s pretty impressive accuracy for the iRacing product.”
“The partnership between Mazda and iRacing is a natural,” says Tony Gardner, president of iRacing.com. “As we all know, more MX-5s are road raced on any given weekend than any other model of car. What’s also true is that, on any given day, more MX-5s are sim-raced on iRacing than any other car. Not only does this partnership offer exciting opportunities for our many members who are aspiring racers, it will also enable Mazda teams to tap into a deep pool of new driving talent.”
Tristan Nunez, who races the No. 07 SpeedSource Mazda SKYACTIV-D Prototype in the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship and is also an iRacing enthusiast, says the idea is awesome. “The simulators are a great way to brush up your skills and to really fine tune everything. They are pretty similar to what it’s like in real life – you just don’t have the g-forces, the heat and all that. I think that’s a great opportunity for youngsters, a low-budget way to get into racing.”
This is an ongoing evolution of a program Mazda started in 2007 and first known as the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development ladder. It now includes the annual Mazda Club Racer Shootout, the Mazda Road to Indy, and the recently announced Mazda SportsCar Racing Academy.