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ALMS – Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
Mazda – A Quick Zoom Zoom Back In Time
© Gary Horrocks

Mazda is a car company unlike any other. “Zoom-Zoom” is a trademark that runs deep in the corporate structure there. What better way to show that commitment than at its home track, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

While Mazda will admit that the last two years in the P2 division of the ALMS have been a disappointment, we sportscar fans sometimes are guilty of tunnel vision, concentrating only on the prototype program. For Mazda, there is much more to its racing programs than that.

Star Mazda has been a proven and cost effective training ground for up and coming drivers for many years, while its efforts in the Speed Touring series have proven to be quite competitive in the last few years, moving from also rans to class favorites.

Starting this season, the new look Formula Atlantic series is powered by Mazda and it also have strong presence in Grand Am. But many forget about yesterday. When Mazda was truly a giant killer.

Among the cars on display at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the ALMS weekend were some of the more significant entries for the make that raced in the States.

First, there was the RX-2, a project car from Car and Driver magazine, back when the magazine had some spirit. This car raced in the IMSA RS class in 1973, and gave Mazda its first victory in IMSA competition.

There was the RX-3, which Jim Downing drove to the RS championship in 1981.

Chronologically between, but of a different breed, was the GTU class RX-7 of 1979, which really set Mazda on the map in sportscar racing. I remember working at PIR while in college, and being asked to lock up the Bridgestone tires of the fastest qualifying RX-7, the thought being that they were super soft and that is where the speed came from. Well, from the results, it wasn’t the tires…

Also on display was the 1991 GTO class winning RX-7 and the radical looking RX-792P GTP from 1992. While not successful, as far as results, this was one of the cars that captured the imagination at the end of a glorious era.

Who would have thought that out of humble beginnings such as the RX-2 and RX-3 would spring forth the overall winner of Le Mans in 1991? This is a 1994 image from Laguna Seca's Historics event: this car was at Okayama last weekend. Below is another 1994 shot, this one of the Lola T616.

It’s almost as if Mazda took the lessons learned by Porsche in its many years as a giant killer and based the program upon that script. Unfortunately, in the dark years of sportscar racing the 90s, Mazda too forgot the plot, almost disappearing from the racing scene.

But it hasn’t always been good for Mazda. Besides disappearing from racing, Mazda almost disappeared from the scene all together. Sales went down as Mazda went down the same road as many others, concentrating on cars that had no character. Thankfully, the company learned the lesson and righted the ship, again embracing racing.

Now, there is hope that Mazda is ready to take the next step in prototype racing. It was hoped that an announcement was to be made at the track, addressing the future, but it now appears that the announcement will possibly occur at the SEMA show. Knowing it will be taking on Porsche, Acura and possibly others in the next few years, Mazda knows that it must focus and put forth better efforts in order to compete with its rivals in the market place.

But it isn’t just on the track that Mazda is making news. It could be argued that across the entire product line, Mazda quite possibly could have more interesting and enthusiast-geared vehicles than any other line in the world. Starting with the RX-8, the flag ship of the line, right on down to the Mazda 3, every car is equipped with a dose of Zoom-Zoom.

Even the car I had for the weekend, a 2007 Mazda 5 Touring, is injected with the soul of a sportscar. Looking at the specs, what is effectively a 6 passenger vehicle (mini-van - which the specs carefully avoid saying) with a 2.3 liter 4-cylinder engine and a 4-speed automatic transmission is not something to stir the soul. But this wasn’t bad. And that is not meant to be a negative. The power from the 153 hp motor was more than adequate for very comfortable cruising. While spirited driving brought forth some body roll, it was not like many rivals of this type.

Upon entering the car, I almost chuckled at the thought of utilizing the option of manually shifting the gears in this car, but it actually suited the character of it quite well. A good stereo (with Sirius satellite radio) and a sun roof completed the package for a very comfortable and stylish vehicle. Well comfortable for most anyway. I just could never arrive at a truly comfortable seating position, no matter what I tried. I just couldn’t get adequate leg support. But then again, I have to admit that my dimensions are a bit more than above the norm.

Mazda, as a company, should be congratulated on its support of racing and the wisdom of using it to revitalize not just a product line, but an entire company. Ford, are you watching one of your investments?

 

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