Recently appointed Mazda Motorsports Director Nelson Cosgrove is relishing his new role. Here he tells us of his hopes for 2020 and beyond

Story Graham Hope

It’s been a busy few months for Nelson Cosgrove. Since November, when he was announced as the successor to John Doonan as the new Director of Mazda Motorsports, Cosgrove has enjoyed a successful Rolex Daytona 24 Hours, announced changes to the Mazda MX-5 Global Cup Car series and committed to a full testing program ahead of the competitive debut for the Mazda3 TCR. Mazda Stories caught up with Cosgrove to find out how he’s settled into life at Mazda and to take a look ahead to an exciting 2020. This interview was carried out in February 2020. Since then the COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge upheaval around the world, many of the events Cosgrove mentions have been rescheduled until later in the year.

You’ve really had to hit the ground running at Mazda, haven’t you? How have you found your first few months?

It’s been really busy getting everything up to speed. But because we started the season quite early, it’s been interesting. There has been a lot of support from everybody in Irvine [Mazda’s North American HQ] and Japan. And I feel we were pretty well prepared getting onto the racetrack. The results at Daytona—second for the No. 77 Mazda RT24-P, sixth for the No. 55 Mazda RT24-P—were great. I wish we could have added one more step up the podium, but to get both cars across the finishing line was good.

Was Daytona the focus as soon as you started?

Yes, Daytona and Sebring. The 36 Hours of Florida—those two races are the ones that are the big focus early. They take so much of the effort. It’s a lot of the season mileage that happens right away. So that’s been our focus with the Prototype program. And we’ve also had some changeover. We have now teamed up with Flis Performance for the Global MX-5 Cup.

You have a long and varied résumé. What have you learned that you can bring to Mazda Motorsports?

I’ve had the opportunity to work for great racing teams in the past, so I have a lot of first-hand experience with team operation and how execution at the racetrack needs to happen. I feel like I have been fortunate enough to be at certain organizations at the right time in their history. I’ve been a part of programs that have won a lot of races and championships, and with some of them at a time of really significant growth. I was able to learn a lot there technically but also how the business works, how you deal with sanctioning bodies, how you work with race teams… Those are the things that I can bring from the operational side into the Mazda program.

Based on the road-going Mazda3, the Mazda3 TCR is the manufacturer’s latest race car and is expected to debut at the 2021 Rolex 24 At Daytona, where it will race in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge series

As a car manufacturer, Mazda has a reputation for doing things its own way. Do you think that is also true of Mazda Motorsports?

Yes, we do things our own way—that’s a really good way to put it, and I don’t see any of that changing. That was actually one of the things that was very attractive to me about this position. Mazda has such a dedicated grassroots program. For example, the way that we do parts—a lot of auto companies don’t really do this. Just as an example, about 20 percent of what we sell every year as grassroots parts are for cars with rotary engines. So, despite all the MX-5s that are out there, there are still lots of people racing RX-7s and RX-8s. It’s amazing!

You’re responsible for a lot of series, but the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the most high profile. Mazda got off to a great start at Daytona. What made the difference?

Preparation—but a lot of it was planned before I officially joined. There was an endurance test that happened at Daytona at the end of October. Then directly from there they went to Sebring. And in both places, we were able to identify and correct some small problems. There was also some long-distance endurance testing done on dynos, working out a lot of the small faults and kinks, and then we went back in December and ran another two days. We were really dedicated to trying to drive durability into the system. And it worked out. We still had a bit of a problem with the No. 55 car at Daytona, with an exhaust system failure, but overall we got both cars to the finish.

“I’d love to see us in the position to have a really successful year. But for me it’s about trying to win some of these longer races”

That great start and three wins last year brings a sense of anticipation. Does that also ramp up the pressure on the team and you?

I wouldn’t call it pressure, but there is a certain level of expectation now that the car is pretty well sorted out and has good speed, and the driver line-up is excellent. So, there is a certain level of expectation that we should be competitive all year. There is a strong desire from everyone involved in the program to have good execution. In a series like this, you have to execute when it is your time, because you won’t always have the best performance at every track. That is just how it works. They were able to do that last year. I think we have always had a bit of an Achilles heel with the long-distance races, but we have focused really hard on those and that is where we are right now.

It’s obviously important to you for Mazda to do well. What are your personal hopes for 2020?

Obviously, I would like to say we are going to go for the championship. But what I have said all along is that I would hope we are at the point where we could have success at some of the longer races that has eluded the cars in the past. As long as we are up front, and we are in the position to score victories, that is the goal of this season. I think we need to be in the mix, we need to be running up front and, ideally, at the end of the season, I’d love to see us in the position to have a really successful year. But for me it’s about trying to win some of these longer races.

How well do you know the drivers? Are you happy with the line-up?

I’ve never worked with any of them previously. I know more about Ryan Hunter-Reay than any of the others, because of his IndyCar experience. But I have been in the [IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar] paddock for the last four years, so I knew of these guys and was able to watch them, and it’s a very impressive group. There are the long-term Mazda drivers like Jonathan Bomarito and Tristan Nunez and they’re great talents, and then Harry Tincknell and Olly Jarvis are great GT racers and also very good in these cars. So, we are lucky enough to have these guys at the right time of their careers. And Olivier Pla is another guy we’re fortunate to have. They are all very quick and they’re very good endurance racers.

You’re also responsible for the Mazda3 TCR. Can you update us on the latest plans for that car?

The powertrain installation wasn’t really complete until about last Christmas. We had not done a significant amount of testing, so we decided to take this season to complete the development and to do sufficient testing for a season of racing. We will have a new technical partner [still to be announced] and I think the car is actually going to be quite good. It certainly has the right systems and components on it, and the suspension system looks really good now. I think we are going to have a fruitful test program. Our plan is to have it ready to race by Daytona 2021.

And what about the Global MX-5 Cup? It has earned a reputation for exciting racing; can we expect more of the same in 2020?

Well, one thing that is a bit different from last year is that there is a new SADEV sequential shift transmission. It will bring a pretty good level of performance and also a fair amount of durability. The racing can be extraordinarily tight, and the people who drive in it are quite big personalities, so we are seeing a lot of interest in the series. It has a bunch of cars, typically 32 or 33 in the field, which is fantastic, and so we are working really hard to spread the word and get it out to more places and make sure people are aware of the great racing that we have.

The next few years could see some significant changes in motorsports. How do you see Mazda evolving in tandem with this?

My hope is that as motorsports continues to develop and change—and I think there is going to be a lot of change over the next five years—I see us adapting and growing with the brand in a way that makes all of us proud to be part of the Mazda family. So, whether that is new cars, or different kinds of cars, the thing that Mazda stands for is challenger spirit and we all need to continue to use motorsports as a vehicle for ongoing development. It’s a great story and one that I think that we need to continue to push.

Does that mean we can expect to see some form of electrification?

That’s a great question! I think at the moment we at Mazda are committed to getting the most out of the internal combustion engine, but we are also looking very carefully at what is going on around the rest of the world. The rules for the next generation of prototype racing globally will require a hybrid system, so it is something we need to consider and evaluate.

Watch the Mazda RT24-P on track at the 2020 Rolex 24 At Daytona