Maeda, donning a red, black and white racing suit emblazoned with Mazda's "Skyactiv Technology" insignia and his blood type, Rh+O, stitched into the belt, says racing benefits his work in the studio in countless ways. For starters, it cultivates focus and poise under pressure.
"It's just like when I sometimes make a presentation about design in front of thousands of people. It feels similar," he says of racing. "I need to stay focused yet appeal emotionally to an audience. My racing experience can benefit me when I do presentations."
Then there is the creative muse. Racing offers unique glimpses of cars pushed to their limits: The look of the outside tires digging under the fenders as the cars tilt into a sharp turn. The way cars seize and rock forward when slamming on the brakes.
"When two cars race against each other, I find that a cool-looking car looks really cool," Maeda says. "I remember very well the car shapes and scenes I see when driving."
It creates a kind of palette in his mind for future designs.
"There is a stock of various scenes in my mind when I imagine and design a car," Maeda says.
"Having a mental picture of a racing scene is really good for further stimulating imagination because ordinary people don't get to have such an image."
Injecting exhilaration into the designs is key for Mazda with its heritage of the RX rotary and MX roadster families of sporty vehicles. Protecting that DNA was burned into Maeda early on.
In the early 1970s, Japan's racing scene was dominated by the unbeatable Nissan Skyline GT-R. Then came the new Mazda Savanna RX-3, with its rotary engine, and a glorious rivalry was born. Maeda still remembers accompanying his father to the Fuji 500-mile Tourist Trophy Race where the RX-3 stopped the GT-R's legendary winning streak at 49 races.
"I had an adrenalin rush," he recalls. Maeda races partly to promote that same enthusiasm.
"One role for me is to create that kind of culture within the company, and I have been trying to lead that effort," he says. "Now, many Mazda executives take part in races. They don't necessarily participate in top tier races, but they do enter races as beginners."