Cyber Motorsports Chats with Jim
While at Scrutineering
by Earl Cook
October 6, 1998
The New Mazda Kudzu from Downing Atlanta
Jim Downing, along with Rob Dyson, have been two of
the stalwarts of American Sports Car racing in the 1990's.
Downing Atlanta designs, builds and races their own cars
known as the Kudzu for the infamous plant that proliferates
in the south. Downing is famous for his Mazda-powered cars
and won the LMP2 class at Le Mans in 1997. At scrutineering,
we saw Jim and he was kind enough to give us a few minutes
the day before he was due to arrive for his car's technical
inspection. (We normally put driver's photos up along with
our interviews, but we felt that Jim would rather have a
picture of his car up rather than him).
Cyber: We are here today with Jim Downing of Mazda
Kudzu fame, who I understand has a new four-rotor car about
ready for a Petit Le Mans debut.What is the status of the
Downing: (Smiling) Well, we never seem to do
anything until the last minute. We have now finished the car
and tested it yesterday at Road Atlanta. We made a number of
pretty good laps, until something broke. At that point, we
had to load up and come home. So, all my guys are at the
shop fixing the car about four miles from this inspection
station at Lenox Square. Hopefully, this time tomorrow, I am
due to be inspected, and, hopefully, we will be ready to
Cyber: You have driven many laps at Road Atlanta,
but you have never driven a ten hour race there?
Downing: (Laughing) Nope!
Cyber: So, what do you think it is going to be
like on the track for ten hours?
Downing: I don't think there are going to be many
guys standing at the end. It is going to be a true endurance
race. Road Atlanta is tough on cars. It is a very demanding
course from a driver's viewpoint. And, I think that there
are going to be a lot of yellows, a lot of incidents... all
interesting stuff. The track is now much, much safer and I
am not at all worried. Now, if it had been on the old
configuration before Don Panoz made all the changes, I think
we would be very nervous about it. But, now, you can
actually do something stupid and not get yourself hurt,
which is nice. So, I just want to race and I look forward to
being there at the end.
Cyber: The part that broke on your car, was it a
Downing: It was the nose box attachment. It is a
completely new body, chassis and everything. It was an area
that you just couldn't patch. So, we had to take it back and
take it apart. It is not structural, but the part holds the
nose up... really, the nose went 'paluuh' and dropped
Cyber: I understand that you have lightened the
Downing: We are down about a couple hundred
pounds. We have to ballast back up to meet the ACO rules.
So, we are a lot heavier than when we tested. That is going
to hurt us some. A rotary engine does not have a lot of
torque like a V-8 Ford engine or something similar. Being
heavy hurts us a lot. But it is a ten hour race and Mazdas
and Kudzus are known for their reliability ,so we hope that
brings us through.
Cyber: You are running in the LMP1 rather than WSC
class. Why did you make that choice?
Downing: Well, both of my sponsors, NEC and Mr.
Terado, who has been my co-driver at Le Mans for the past
three years, chose to run in that class and because Mr.
Panoz and Mr. Berteaux, head of Le Mans, have offered a
prize if you run that class.You get a guaranteed starting
spot at Le Mans next year. So we felt that even with the
heavier weight and less power, (since we have to run with
restrictors) that in a ten hour race, we might be able to do
well, and it was worth taking the penalty.
Cyber: I wish you luck and I want to tell you that
there is a lot of interest around the world from fans that
want to see the four rotor and Downing do well.
Downing: Well, thank you. There are a lot of Mazda
& NEC fans out there.
Cyber: Thank you very much.
Tim Crete from Sportscar World: What's it like
starting a ten hour race with a brand new car?
Downing: It is probably the dumbest thing that I
have ever done. I have absolutely no spares. But, we did the
same thing at Le Mans in 1997 and won the class.
With that Jim walked off, and I am sure had another long
night back at the shop. His car did make it for its
appointment at scrutineering the next day, but I am sure
that someone was probably working on the car as it was
unloaded from the transporter.
Jim Downings new Mazda Kudzu did finish the Petit
Le Mans in 14th place overall and 4th place in Le Mans