Speeding Down the Road to 24

Mazda’s scholarships for sports car racers continues to grow and provide opportunities to grassroots racers

Preparations and planning are underway for the 2017 edition of the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout, with this year’s event continuing to showcase club racing champions and give them a shot at a funded ride in the Idemitsu MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires for the 2018 season.

“We will bring together the best club racers from around the country for the shootout,” says Kyle Kimball, Mazda Motorsports operations manager. “The winner will receive the scholarship value at $100,000 to enter into MX-5 Cup for the 2018 season, and we will continue to support the MX-5 Cup champion with the $200,000 scholarship.”

The 2016 MX-5 Cup champion was Nathanial “Sparky” Sparks, who has chosen to remain in the series rather than seeking his fortunes elsewhere. He’s a driver that Kimball points out as a success story.

“Sparky’s goal was to be a professional racing driver and he loves driving in MX-5 Cup, says Kimball. “The scholarship has allowed him to progress in the series he calls home; allowed him to compete this year and hopefully years down the road.” The winner of the 2017 MX-5 Cup championship will find him or herself with several avenues, including Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car A, where the MX-5 Cup car is doing well.

Another success story is Kenton Koch, currently competing in the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. Koch won the Skip Barber class of MX-5 Cup when Mazda was partnering with the school, then won the MX-5 Cup championship the next year. He parlayed that into the IMSA Prototype Lites title, which earned him a ride in the Prototype Challenge class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for the long-distance endurance races. There, he was part of the Rolex 24 at Daytona winning team. 

Mazda Motorsports has long sought the next Sparks or Koch in the club racing ranks. The shootout invites any driver who won a national championship in Sports Car Club of America or National Auto Sport Association competition, along with Mazda Teen Challenge champions, to submit their business plan for a shot at competing in the on-track shootout. Mazda has been awarding a scholarship to compete in MX-5 Cup for a dozen years now. 

“Mazda’s been committed to the scholarship program both on the open wheel and the sports car side,” says John Doonan, Manager, Mazda Motorsports. “Last year we took all of our shootouts to a new level by engaging more and more of our factory drivers, and in the case of the MX-5, Long Road Racing, the builder of the car. We are proud of what we’ve achieved so far, and to see the number of drivers that have made it to the ’24,’ whether that’s in a Mazda or another car, is certainly something that we’re proud of.”

Continuing in 2017 will be the opportunity for a virtual racing titlist to throw his or her hat into the ring. Glenn McGee came from winning the iRacing MX-5 Cup title to taking honors in the shootout in 2015, and continues to compete in the series. Those finishing in the top 20 positions in the iRacing Mazda Cup Series running from June through September will be invited to submit a variety of materials (including video profile, social media posts, resumes and personal references) to an iRacing committee. The committee will then select one iRacer to participate in the 2017 Road to 24 Shootout scheduled for late October or early November.

“We’re excited that an iRacer will be participating in the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout again this year,” says Kevin Bobbitt, marketing director for iRacing.com. “The performances by Glenn McGee and other iRacers in past Shootouts testifies to how well they are able to hone their craft on iRacing, and we’re thrilled another skilled iRacer will be able to compete against other top grassroots racers in the 2017 Mazda Road to 24 Shootout.”

Whether the eventual Shootout winner comes from club racing or virtual racing, the Shootout connects people with opportunities they may not have had otherwise.

“As we all know, the business of motorsports has certainly changed, and reaching the heights or obtaining one’s goals of becoming a professional racing driver is more difficult than ever right now,” says Kimball. “We view the Shootout as a way of finding hidden talent in grassroots racing and providing an avenue for them to realize their goals of becoming a professional racing driver.”