Introduction to Mazda’s Motorsport history
T W White have always celebrated the important motorsport moments throughout history, especially those achieved by their best loved Mazda, Suzuki and Hyundai models. With this year marking the 25th anniversary of Mazda’s Le Mans win in 1991, it seemed appropriate to focus on the times when Mazda made history. The Japanese brand has always had an unbreakable link with motorsport, and we’ll be taking a look back at their motorsport activity from years gone by, and how the continuing development of its Skyactiv technology has led to the success of their road cars, taking influence from the track links directly to the street.
Where it all began
Mazda’s racing team dates back to 1967 where they were known as ‘Mazda Sports Corner’, based out of Japans largest Mazda dealership – Mazda Auto Tokyo. The Mazda Cosmo 110S model showcased great performance potential, becoming an impressive car for them, and it was this sleek two-seater sports car that then debuted as the first ever production rotary engine. From this, the Japanese team set a mission to establish a Mazda presence at major motorsports events worldwide.
Their goal soon became a reality, and a year later the racing team debuted two Cosmos against 58 other cars in a race at the Nordshleife, Nuerburgring for the “Marathon de la Route”; an incredible 84-hour endurance race in Germany. Taking everyone, including the team, by surprise the little Mazda Cosmo took fourth place behind two Porsche AG’s and a Lancia Squadra Corse – an incredible achievement for a new racing team with a brand new car and completely new engine technology. Little did they know their story was just beginning.
The success and Achievements
After the success of the 60s, Mazda went on to achieve some exceptional motorsport titles and gain some highly credible achievements, including successes at several internationally famous tracks including Le Mans, Brands Hatch and Silverstone.
Held annually since 1923, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world’s oldest active challenge in endurance racing. Often referred to as the ‘Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency’, the French event is one of the most respected automobile races in the world.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Mazda 1991 Le Mans win, and to this day they remain the only Japanese manufacturer to have won this world-famous title. It was the iconic green and orange 700hp rotary-engine Mazda 787B that took the title with British driver Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler from Germany and Bertrand Gachot from Belgium behind the wheel. The Mazda ran the race faultlessly and the 787B completed all 362 laps at an average speed of 127.62mph, taking the chequered flag in their stride. Mazda reached the number 1 podium ahead of 3 British Jaguar cars taking 2nd, 3rd and 4th place and German manufacturer Mercedes taking 5th, a great achievement for the Japanese manufacturer, affording them a credible status that has lasted through the decades that followed.
Though Mazda hasn’t reclaimed its title since, they did return to Le Mans in 2009 to give it their best shot. Unfortunately, history wasn’t quite repeated for the Japanese car – however they did achieve a podium finish in the LMP2 class with a Mazda-powered prototype.
In 2013 Mazda was thrust back into the limelight, with the announcement that it had been selected to take part in the ‘Legend of Le Mans’ with the iconic 787B Le Mans racer. The sports prototype racer took centre stage amongst an 11 strong line-up of Le Mans cars from across the decades, to celebrate the 90th running of the classic French 24-hour endurance motor race. Race organisers asked the public to take part in an internet poll to pick the one car that best embodied the spirit of Le Mans from each of the 10 decades of the race. For the 1990’s the voting was a dead-heat between the Mazda 787B and the Peugeot 905, and ultimately 11 cars were given ‘legend’ status, with Mazda standing proudly as one of the best!
Based near Swanley in Kent, Brands Hatch has been hosting British and International racing events since 1964. Gerhard Berger, the former Austrian Formula One driver spoke of Brands Hatch as ‘the best circuit in the world’, and the course has hosted many of the motorsport greats on its tracks.
Mazda has achieved some respectable titles at Brands Hatch. The Mazda MX-5 GT car completed the 2011 season on a high, finishing the Britcar Production GTN Championship ahead of rivals Ferrari, Porsche and Lotus. Finishing the race in fifth overall and second in class against 21 competitors, the little Mazda raced around Brands Hatch Indy circuit in style. The MX-5 GT was the new 2012 development version, fully complete with a new lightweight chassis and gearbox, lower roll cage, new front splitter and rear diffuser for improved aerodynamics. The weight had also been reduced by over 50kg compared to the previous car, and the body was lowered by 20mm, giving it better performance, better grip and more steadiness around corners. All of this, combined with the car’s legendary handling, fuel economy and light tyre usage made this an ideal motor for endurance driving.
A year later, Mazda improved on its previous performance at the track, and showcased the motor’s driving excellence. Jota prepared the 2012 Mazda MX-5 GT team at Brands Hatch, and finished the two-hour British GT Championship race in third place. The Mazda MX-5 GT ran competitively throughout and Mark Ticehurst and Owen Mildenhall successfully drove the car to podium victory. The Mazda MX-5 GT scored the second fastest time in free practice before qualifying fifth in class. The race was looking like it could be anyone’s game; the 30-minute class session saw just 1.1 seconds separating the top five. However, to see Mazda alongside much larger motors including Ferrari, Porsche and Mercedes was quite the achievement for the Japanese manufacturer.
Silverstone is one of the best recognised motor racing circuits in the world, located on the border between Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire. Silverstone has seen many prestigious racing events take to its tarmac, and is the current home to the British Grand Prix which it first hosted back in 1948.
Mazda was first on the scene in 1992, at Silverstone’s World Sports Car Championship. The race was a gloomy affair, with only a handful of cars coming to the grid; there were only 11 starters and just 5 finishers. The race was won by the Peugeot 905, two laps ahead of Maurizio Sandro Sala and Johnny Herbert driving the Mazda MXR-01. Taking 2nd place was an impressive achievement for Mazda, adding to their titles and recognition within the motorsport industry. At the end of this season, the World Sports Car Championship was brought to a close, meaning Mazda finished this final event on a podium high.
In 2011 Mazda prepared an impressive three MX-5’s to take part in the most gruelling endurance race at Silverstone – The Britcar 24hr. One Mazda MX-5 GT and two standard MX-5’s were competing in the race, but unfortunately not everything went to plan. Early in the race an impact caused a fuel leak that necessitated a repair to the GT’s car fuel cell, effectively taking the car out of action for the race. Despite this setback, the Mazda MX-5’s honour was upheld by the remaining two cars – two standard production MX-5s, with the addition of safety equipment required for racing but the same power and basic set-up found on the road car.
Mazda’s highest finishing MX-5 was Car 75, driven by motoring journalists Andrew Frankel, Matt Prior, Ben Anderson and Jethro Bovingdon. A flawless drive by the four journalists saw them cross the line in 16th place overall and sixth in class – the best overall finish that Mazda has had at the Britcar 24-hour race. Unfortunately, Car 86 was involved in a race incident that required significant effort by the team to rebuild the front and get the car back into the race. A clean run to the finish ensured that the MX-5 Car, driven by members of the armed forces, finished 24th overall and 10th in class.
Continued Motorsport Success
24 Hours of Daytona
The 24 Hours of Daytona is an endurance race held annually at Daytona International speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Mazda has achieved great success at this event, winning their class a staggering 23 times.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Constructed in 1909, this speedway is located in Indiana and offers the highest capacity of spectator seats of any sports venue in the world. The two and half mile oval track has seen many successes from Mazda over the years. In 2013 the Mazda 6 diesel took victory in the GX class, achieving the first ever win for a diesel race car at the ‘Brickyard’ circuit and proving how developments of the firm’s Skyactiv-D diesel engine on track could drive improvements for Mazda’s road cars.
Mazda’s successes have not only been on the track however, but also on the road, thanks to the thousands of people within Mazda that contribute to the development process. Since 1957 and the Motor Sports Corner racing team, the company’s development has been huge, and despite their comparatively small size they are constantly challenging and competing with the larger and more established manufacturers, including Ferrari and Porsche.
We highly recommend exploring a Mazda for yourself. You may not be driving a supercar, but the influence the track cars have had on the development of the road models is clear. At T W White we stock new editions of the Mazda 2, Mazda 3, Mazda 6, Mazda CX-3, Mazda CX-5 and the Mazda MX-5 – closely matched to the ones you see racing around circuits. If you are interested, then pop down to one of the T W White & Sons Mazda showrooms in Weybridge and Bookham, Surrey, or Orpington, Kent and take a test drive. Once you get behind the wheel, we are sure you will love it!