Mazda Enters the Game
The unmistakable wailing of Mazda’s rotary style engine was first heard at Le Mans in 1970, when a Chevron B16 was entered by the Japanese manufacturer. Mazda began to produce rotary engines in 1963 after having gained rights to do so from the creator Felix Wankel in 1961. The rotary engine itself was a departure from the tradition piston and cylinder design of internal combustion engines to that point. It relied on an eccentrically rotating Reuleaux triangle that created compression between its outter surface and the inner walls of the epitrochoid (oval) shaped housing, and yes I am being deliberately technical in this description. The engine was able to achieve very high output for its weight and overall dimension. To create the same horsepower figures, a Wankel engine required one third the weight.
The first victory under the power of a rotary engine came in 1973 when an MX-2 won the IMSA RS race at Lime Rock Park. Mazda’s small rotary powered sports cars were successful, and in widespread use throughout various racing series world-wide. Incredibly, in 1976, Ray Walle, owner of Z&W Mazda, drove one of his RX-5’s off the lot of his dealership in Princeton, all the way down to Daytona for the 24 Hours of Daytona race whereby he won the under 2.5L class, and drove back to New Jersey the next day. If only a feat like this was possible today… but I digress. Such was the capability of the rotary engine, and the victories for Mazda steady added up over the next 10 years across several major international series.
By the mid 1980’s Mazda had been involved in several forays with their attempt at a winning prototype racer and no major success. Like many manufacturers, their goals set firmly on a win at Le Mans, and while they were consistent performers year in and out, the victory was beyond reach. In 1985 however, Mazda turned to British race car engineering specialist Nigel Stroud. Mazda had just come off a 3rd and 6th place finish in the 1985 24 Hours of Le Mans running their 727C prototypes in the C2 class. Mazda had a new rotary engine in the works, billed to be ready for the 86’ season, and Stroud was tasked with constructing a new car to wrap around the stout powerplant.
Stroud laid down a conventional aluminum monocoque with in board suspension in an effort to keep the under-car ground effect tunnels as free from obstruction as possible. Mazda’s new 3 rotor 13G engine was mounted amidships in the steel sub frame, and mated to a 5 speed manual gearbox and rear suspension. The body was sleep, and a full carbon fiber affair. Mazdaspeed debuted the 757 at Suzuka for the 500km race in April of 1986 where the team achieved a 6th place overall finish. A 13th overall finish was then achieved at the 1000km race at Silverstone. With the 757s competing in the GTP class of the World Sportscar Championship, they entered Le Mans as the fastest of the class through testing, but it was a race plagued with reliability issues, and mechanical failures. Fortunately for Mazdaspeed, they were able to take victory in front of a home crowd at the Fuji 1000km event.
The 757 remained largely unchanged over the offseason, and rejoined the field for 1987 to make another stab at success in the GTP class. In addition to running in the World Sportscar Championship, the Mazdaspeed camp also entered 757 cars in the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship (JSPC) where Porsche, Toyota, Nissan, and themselves hashed it out over local Japanese circuits. The Mazda 757 achieved a 3rd place finish in the manufacturers championship of the JSPC. For Mazdaspeed however, the 757 was becoming tired, and as the factory team, they needed to continue developing the program to stay competitive, although 757 racecars were sold to privateer outfits who raced the vehicle with good success in various international competitions all the way up to 1990.