To keep its engineers on their toes, Mazda has a comprehensive and wide ranging competition programme. From events as diverse as the snows and cold of the Monte Carlo Rally to the heat and dust of the Acropolis Rally, or at the gruelling long distance sports car events, such as Le Mans, Mazdas will be seen battling it out with some of the other most prestigious marques in the world.
Mazda’s sporting activities basically fall into two distinct categories — international rallying and sports car racing with a programme centred around the 24 Hour Le Mans race.
In the turbocharged, four-wheel drive 323, Mazda has a car that is as happy pounding along the special stages of the world as it is in the thrust and counter-thrust of Saturday morning shopping.
Mazda’s rallying programme is as intensive as it is successful, but it is more than that. From every rally that is contested, it is almost certain that some new fact will be learnt. It may be insignificant, it may be something unrelated to the 323, but whatever it is, this nugget of knowledge will find its way back to the various Technical Research Centres to see whether it can be put to good use.
While the familiar shape of the 323 is used on these hard and gruelling events, the machines used in international sports car racing would be hardly recognisable to the average man in the street, but, yet again, the lessons learnt from each outing are painstakingly documented.
There has been an explosion of interest in sports car racing in recent years, especially with the arrival of the Japanese, but it is Mazda which has the honour of being the first Japanese manufacturer to contest Le Mans. The Sigma Rotary of 1974 may not have won that year, but it blazed a trail along which many others have followed.
There followed a spell of campaigning derivations of the famous RX-7, which in production-type form had been so successful on racing tracks all over the world, but with the introduction of new regulations in 1982, Mazdaspeed, the sporting arm of Mazda, decided to commit itself even more to motor racing.
The result was the 717C which made its debut at Silverstone in 1983. It laid the foundations upon which Mazda’s sports racing cars have been based ever since: a beautifully constructed car powered by a rotary engine. By coming first and second in class at Le Mans that year, it also set a high standard by which all subsequent Mazda’s had to be judged.
In the intervening years Mazdaspeed cars have gone from strength to strength with the climax coming at Le Mans in 1989 when all three cars not only finished but crossed the Finish line in formation to the roar of the crowd.
Mazda’s blend of individuality and competitiveness, professionalism and friendliness adds a unique dimension to the colourful world of motor racing, the fruits of which are reflected in the product.