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Cyber Motorsports Chats with Jim Downing

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 car?

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 go.

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 major part?

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 down.

Cyber: I understand that you have lightened the car?

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.

Earl Cook

Cyber Motorsports

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Jim Downings new Mazda Kudzu did finish the Petit Le Mans in 14th place overall and 4th place in Le Mans Prototype.

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