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Apr 28, 2004
Lola T616 Mazda
IRVINE, Calif. - In 1984 the Lola T616 Mazda racecars made motorsports history. This weekend at the Road and Track U.S. Sports Car Invitational, the Mazdas make a triumphant return as fans have a rare opportunity to see them complete their first hot laps in 20 years.
When the Lola T616 Mazda first took to the track, it featured a modified 13B rotary engine and was rated at 300-horsepower. As with all rotary engines, the T616 lacked the displacement of competitors' engines, but more than made up for this short-coming with incredible, high-revving reliability and the engine's small size and low weight.
"That engine was absolutely guaranteed for 24 hours without a hitch," said Jim Busby, owner of Jim Busby Racing and driver of the historic T616. "At the time [1984 season] we went almost a full year without an engine failure."
BFGoodrich Tires entered two Mazda Lola T616s in the 1984 24 Hours of Le Mans C Junior (C2) group. Car 68, driven by Americans John Morton and John O'Steen, with Japanese driver Yoshami Katayama, took first in class and placed tenth overall. The
Number 67 car was piloted by Americans Jim Busby and Rick Knoop as well as Dutchman Boy Hayje and placed third in its class, twelfth overall.
Throughout 1984, the T616s had continued success at the world's greatest racetracks, including the Monza 1000km in Italy, the Nurburgring 1000km in Germany and the Mt. Fuji 1000km in Japan.
Mazda continued to compete at Le Mans with a series of racecars purpose-built for the demanding circuit. The impressive, purpose-built Mazda 787B featured a four-rotor R 26B engine good for 700-horsepower and propelled Mazda into motorsports history with the first -- and to this date, the only -- overall Le Mans win for a Japanese manufacturer. The number 55 car, piloted by England's Johnny Herbert, Germany's Bertrand Gachot and Luxembourg's Volker Weidler led for the last three hours of the history-making race, finishing 27.2 km ahead of their nearest competitor.
"The T616 and 787B owe a large portion of their dominance to their Mazda rotary engines," said Steve Sanders, manager, MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development. "Mazda's rotary engines still dominate in competition, whether with an RX-8 contending in the Grand-Am Cup, the Renesis rotary-powered Pro Formula Mazda open-wheel series, or the return of the rotary-powered four-door RX-8 sports car."
After Mazda's resounding win in 1991, the Le Mans sanctioning body banned rotary engines due to difficulties in classifying and grouping the unique powerplants against standard piston engines. Although the action by the sanctioning body ensured the 787B's legacy as the only car to ever win Le Mans with a rotary engine, the ruling also effectively truncated Mazda's Le Mans racing efforts, as all work was centered on rotary-engined vehicles.
The T616s laid dormant for 20 years until Jim Busby, original driver of car 67, tracked them down and restored them to their former glory. The T616 recently
benefited from a full, frame-off restoration. Finally back in top form, these historic racecars will once again run rampant at Road & Track's Sports Car Invitational to be held April 30 to May 2 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Motorsports fans can catch the Lola T616 Mazdas, along with a number of other historically significant rotary-powered racecars, running hot laps on Saturday, May 1st from 12:45 - 1:00pm, and Sunday, May 2nd from 1:25 - 1:45pm. Race enthusiasts will also have the chance to see historic stock cars in action and witness drifting, the latest trend to take the sport compact market by storm.
Mazda North American Operations is responsible for the sales and marketing, customer parts and services support of Mazda vehicles in the United States. Headquartered in Irvine, Calif., MNAO has more than 700 dealerships nationwide.
EDITOR'S NOTE: For more information on Mazda products, visit the online Mazda media center at www.mazdausamedia.com.