1. Dawn of Mazda Racing History
Cosmo Sport 110S and Races:
Mazda came up with the plan to participate in motor racing to prove that the rotary engine, the world's first mass-produced engine of its kind, ensured high-performance, reliability and durability. This was when the company launched the Cosmo Sport, the first vehicle in the world powered by a multi-rotor rotary power unit. The two racing-trim Cosmo Sports were baptized at the Nordshleife, Nurburgring where the "Marathon de la Route," an 84-hour endurance event, was held on August 21, 1968.
The heart of the racing Cosmo Sport was based on the twin-rotor Type 10A engine featuring a single-port capacity of 491cc, aluminum housing and side port. The competition powerplant featured an innovative combination port system that utilized the side portconfiguration for low-rpm operation and, for the high-speed range a peripheral port was used to improve the engine's breathing. The fuel-air mixture was supplied by a Weber-type carburetor and the port switching mechanism was provided by a shutter valve located inside the intake manifold. The maximum power output was intentionally restricted to 130ps/7,000rpm after taking into consideration the long distance the car needed to cover during a race spanning three and a half days.
During the event, two Porsches and a Lancia made up the top-three with two Cosmo Sports playing aggressive catching up roles. In the 81st hour, just three hours before the chequered flag, one of the Cosmo pair suffered a broken rear axle and had to retire. The other, however, endured the 84-hour challenge, and was classified fourth overall. This wonderful achievement proved that the rotary engine, a power unit unknown in the ordinary world, had enormous potential in power, reliability and durability.
-The R-100 (Familia Rotary Coupe) Knocked on the Door of the European Touring Car Races:
In July 1968, the mass-production Familia Rotary Coupe, equipped with a rotary engine as its name implied, was launched and took over the position of a volume seller for the Mazda stable from the Cosmo. The racing Familia Rotary Coupe featured Type 10A engine identical to the preceding Cosmo Sport but the use of a peripheral port allowed it to generate peak power approaching the 200ps mark.
The Familia Rotary Coupe R-100 recorded its maiden victory at the Grand Prix of Singapore in April 1969 but this was just the beginning. It finished the Spa-Francorchamps 24-hour race in fifth and sixth places after four Porsche 911s, vehicles that were fundamentally in a different category. One month later, it finished in the points _ fifth overall _ in the "Marathon de la Route."
The following season saw the presence of the evolutionary version of the racing Familia. The car participated in three events within two months; the RAC Tourist Trophy Race in June 1970 (GB, eighth overall), the West German Touring Car Grand Prix in July (fourth overall) and the Spa-Francorchamps 24-hour Race.
There were 58 entrants including BMW2800CSs and Alfa Romeo GTAs in the Belgian endurance race. The four Familia Rotary Coupes that had been entered displayed a good rhythm from the very beginning. At the 12th hour, the entry driven by Yoshimi Katayama and Toshinori Takechi overtook a BMW to take the lead in the event for the first time. The other three siblings maintained third, fourth and eighth places. The fierce battle between the first- and second-place cars from Japan and West Germany lasted until the 18th hour when the Familia suddenly had to pull out for good. This might have been an omen of misfortune for the marque from Hiroshima as two more Familia Rotary Coupes were added to the retirement list. The last remaining survivor was classified fifth, a disappointment considering the superb performance up until the 18th hour.
Though the Familias did not win the race, the promotional effect was so great that most of the spectators present at the event were aware of the brilliance of the rotary engine. The awe-inspiring performance of the new comer was highly acclaimed and the Mazda Familia Rotary Coupe was nicknamed the "Small Giant."
2. Domestic Battlefield
100 Wins by the Savanna RX-3:
The Familia Rotary Coupe, after a series of strong performances in Europe under its belt, made its sensational debut in the Japanese race in November 1969. At the All-Japan Suzuka Automobile Grand Cup Race, the first participation on home soil for the Small Giant, the Familia Rotary Coupe won the event with ease due to the continuous upgrading during the fierce European competitions. It also posed a serious challenge to the Nissan Skyline GT-Rs, the defending champion at that time by finishing fourth overall and signaling that Mazda's presence threatened the Skyline's dominance.
The Capella Rotary, the successor of the Familia, failed to win the championship though it showed strong promise.
A major boost was gained when the first-generation Savanna was introduced to the road-going market in September 1971. The racing variant participated in the Fuji 500-mile Tourist Trophy Race and achieved an astonishing debut win. What is more, the Savanna is remembered by Japanese race-historians as the car that prevented the Skyline GT-R from winning 50 consecutive races. In the following 1972 season, the Savanna RX-3 (the road-going version was known as the "Savanna GT") with the more powerful Type 12A engine, burst onto the scenes. The RX-3 troops dominated the qualifying session of the Japanese Grand Prix (TS-b Race) in May with one of the cars achieving an easy run-away victory in the main event.
After the sweep in the TS-b Race, the Savanna RX-3 was in high demand from privateer customers in addition to the factory-backed teams. The secret behind the successful sales, the secondary target for the vehicle, included the rotary engine ensuring reliability, durability and dynamism and the variety of sports kits that could be used to customize it for sprints and endurance races. As a result of its natural racing characteristics plus its potential for being easily adaptable to various racing scenes, the RX-3 has stood out in racing history since recording its 100th win in the JAF Grand Prix (TS/GTS Race) in May 1976.
3. Major Achievements Of The Savanna RX-7 In The IMSA Series
Racing enthusiasts throughout the world were jubilant in welcoming the first-generation Savanna RX-7 when it was introduced to the market in March 1978. The vehicle's potential for motoring activities was highly appreciated.
Of particular note was its storming performance in the IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) Series in the United States. In February 1979, it won the GTU class and classified fifth overall in the famous Daytona 24-hour Race when it was driven in anger for the first time in America. The maiden victory in the GTU class was followed by an astonishing series of wins, which extended from 1980 to 1987, the first-ever such achievement in the IMSA Series. In addition, Mazda outperformed all its rivals in the Series in 1989 and 1990, resulting in a superb record of ten Manufacturer's titles, trumpeting the name of its brand as a major actor in international racing.
Another important aspect of Mazda's IMSA involvement was the strong performance of RX-7 privateers. Irrespective of geographical borders, enthusiasts dedicated their passion and expertise to the rotary engine. This was undoubtedly a major contributory factor in Mazda's gaining the unprecedented record of 100 IMSA wins in a decade.
The First Japanese Overall Win at the 1981 Spa-Francorchamps 24-hour Race:
In 1981, Mazda embarked on the bold challenge to participate in the Spa-Francorchamps 24-hour Endurance Race, one of the three major endurance events in the world, where it sewed up an overall win with more than a two-lap margin over the BMW530i in second place.
This was the first-ever great achievement by a Japanese car. That year's RX-7 was simply unstoppable; clinching Championship titles in the IMSA Series, the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) Pro-rally Series, the British Saloon Car Championship (1,600 - 2,300cc class, three years in a row) and the Belgian Touring Car Championship.
An Unprecedented 100 Wins in the IMSA Series:
The true moment of glory was when the RX-7 won its 100th IMSA race in the 1990 season. The IMSA Series consists of 15 stages held at various venues throughout the United States. Mazda participated in the 1979 Daytona 24-hour, the season opener of the Series, outpacing the rest of the GTU-class (Engine displacement equal to or less than 3,000cc) for a surprising 1-2 finish. From that time, the company remained committed to the Series for just over one decade.
It was the eleventh round of the 1990 season, held at San Antonio in September, in which the RX-7 clinched its anniversary 100th win. The history of the IMSA during the 1980s almost paralleled that of Mazda, one of the many proofs of the dynamism and reliability of the Savanna RX-7.
4. Le Mans and Racing Rotaries
Le Mans Challenge:
The first clarion call of a rotary-engined vehicle at Le Mans was sounded in 1970. A Belgian team installed Mazda's Type 10A unit in a Chevron B16, which, unfortunately, stopped four hours after the start due to a coolant pipe failure. Three years later, the first Japanese team with a Mazda engine entered a Sigma MC73, assembled by Sigma Automotive and powered by a Mazda Type 12A rotary unit. It lasted longer than the previous challenger but met the same fate in the eleventh hour. The following year's event saw Type 12A engine installed in the Sigma MC74, a modified version of the MC73. It completed the whole 24-hour slog for the first time only to be classified as DNF due to not having completed enough laps.
In 1979, the Motorsport Division of Mazda Auto Tokyo developed and assembled the Mazda 252i, based on the Savanna RX-7 for participation in Le Mans. The qualifying hurdle was, however, too high for the vehicle. The Savanna RX-7 prepared by an American private team completed the event and ranked 21st, which was the first successful classification for a rotary-engined challenger.
The 1981 Mazda 253, an evolutionary version of the 252i, failed to meet its goal. In 1982, two Mazda 254s were taken to the Sarthe classical racetrack where one retired and the other finished 14th overall.
The technical regulations were revised for the 1983 24-heures du Mans resulting in a new category called Group C Junior (renamed "Group C2" from 1984). Mazda engineered the pure and genuine Mazda 717C sports car, fitted with a Type 13B engine in accordance with the new rules. Despite an engine volume handicap, the Mazda 717C performed strongly against rivals of much larger capacity. It won the Group C Junior class and ranked 12th overall. Meanwhile back home in Japan, the Motorsport Division of Mazda Auto Tokyo was reorganized and became Mazda Speed Co., Ltd.
In 1984, in addition to two Mazda 727Cs, evolutionary versions of the 717C, two Mazda Lola T616s (powered by Type 13B engines) supported by BF Goodridge participated in that year's endurance classic. One of the T616s was first in class and 10th overall. Its sister car was classified third in class and 12th overall. The Mazda 727Cs were fourth (15th overall) and sixth (20th overall) in Group C Junior. All the rotary-engined contenders completed the 24-hour event, showing again that the rotary unit ensured high-performance and reliability at the same time.
In 1985, the third consecutive category win by a rotary-engined car was expected especially due to fact that the company's challenger, which had been renamed the Mazda 737C, had received further upgrades. Although they saw the chequered flag, the two Mazdas were confined to third (19th overall) and sixth (24th overall) in class. In the following season, two Mazda 757s with new power plants made up of three rotors and codenamed "Type 13G" (renamed "Type 20B" as of November 1987). Unfortunately, because of driveshaft problems, they were unable to reach the final goal.
Two Mazda 757s participated in the French event in 1987. One of them absented itself from the race early on whereas the other showed good pace to achieve the a new best-ever classification for a Japanese manufacturer with seventh overall.
Mazda's Le Man challenge was not to stop. It came up with a brand-new quad-rotor engine, Type 13J-M (M standing for "modified") in 1988. Two Mazda 767s with the new engines and one Mazda 757 with a three-rotor version participated in Le Mans. The two 767s were in good form in the early stages, leading the Japanese challengers from the fourth to 16th hours. Expectations went up in smoke when they both sustained exhaust manifold problems leading to significant loss of pace. They were classified 17th and 19th. The 757, on the other hand, only managed 15th overall due to a crack in a brake rotor.
Mazda was determined and committed to "Operation Rollback" in the following year. Three 767Bs with Type 13J-Ms were dispatched to France. Two out of the three crashed in the qualifying session, taking the luster off the performance in the actual race. Fortunately, no major problems occurred during the weekend and one finally crossed the finish line in 7th place with a total mileage of 4,980km, the longest distance covered by a Japanese car at the Sarthe circuit. The other two also completed the event, coming in 9th and 12th overall.
The 1990 Mazda Le Man challenger was the Mazda 787 with a brand-new R26B quad-rotor engine. Expectations for an overall win were high but both machines were sidelined: one due to fuel problems, the other electrical. The remaining 767Bs survived the long, tortuous distance both for man and machine. The result, however, was only mediocre, a disappointing 20th overall.
First Le Mans Win by a Japanese Car in 1991:
The 1991 Le Mans was a historic moment for the rotary engine. It was in this year that a Mazda 787B finally secured an overall win at the 24-heures du Mans, the first time for a Japanese challenger to realize such an achievement. The action of the memorable 59th event began at 4:00 PM on June 22nd. Three rotary-engined contenders, featuring one additional rotor for a four-rotor configuration, aggressively hunted out their spaces among the legendary rivals of Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Peugeot and Porsche.
It was 1:03 PM on the 23rd when the number 55 Mazda 787B passed the defending champion Mercedes to take the lead. When the small hand of the clock pointed at four, it was the Mazda crew that was the first to see the chequered flag. The winner's siblings also saw out the full 24 hours crossing the finish line to glory in sixth and eighth place. The dream, long cherished but one that had remained elusive for 13 years, had at last come true.
5. Race Track Activities Of The New RX-7
Bathurst 12-hour Endurance:
The Bathurst 12-hour Endurance Race is a tough Australian battlefield where the very limits of man and production-car-based machines are severely tested. The Enfini RX-7 participated in the event in 1992 outperforming the famous rivals of Porsche 968, Honda NSX and Nissan Skyline GT-R.
Mazda dominated the event for three consecutive years until 1994 with a racing car very close to the road-going version when the host track was changed to Eastern Creek in 1995. The company also won that year's race.