Mazda’s all stars
The golden oldies come out for a special track day, writes Paul Gover
THE year is 1994. It is Bathurst at Easter and Porsche has its reputation on the line in a 12-hour shootout that has drawn entries from many major manufacturers.
But it’s Mazda that wins at Mount Panorama with its RX-7 — the third straight victory for the brand and the second in a row for the same car.
Fast-forward to 2010. The very same RX-7, almost untouched since it finished the Bathurst classic, is ready to go again on a special day for Mazda performance and heritage cars.
The line-up includes a 1960s Mazda Cosmo, another race-winning RX-7 SP, several pocket-rocket Mazda3 MPS turbo cars and even a tiny Mazda2 rally car.
All share the same DNA, which has evolved into the Japanese brand’s Zoom-Zoom war-cry, from the freespinning rotary engine in the Cosmo through to the Targa Tasmania RX-8 SP that’s already hot-lapping the Wakefield Park racetrack at Goulburn in the hands of rally ace Steve Glennie.
But there is another common connection to these cars and it’s the real key to their success. His name is Allan Horsley — just plain H to his friends — and he is far more remarkable than 1967 Cosmo Sports 110S rotary 1994 RX-7 BP race car 1995 Mazda RX-7 SP race car 2007 Mazda2 rally car 2009 Mazda3 diesel rally car 2010 Mazda3 MPS Targa Tasmania car 2010 Mazda RX-8 SP Targa Tasmania car the cars that have raced for him over the years.
He has done everything: setting the program; building the cars; choosing the drivers, finding technology— and loopholes — to make cars quicker; and signing aces including Mark Skaife, John Bowe, Alan Jones and Dick Johnson.
H is standing in the pitlane to keep an eye on his flock, with the familiar grumpy-old-man look that disguises a heart of gold.
‘‘Go easy on the old girls. They’re fast but they’re a bit fragile these days,’’ H says.
Later he becomes the barbecue boss, but when the cars are going he is Team Manager with capital letters.
The cars are soon up and running, some fast and some slow — the Mazda3 is a diesel and the Cosmo is dismally feeble by modern standards — with a couple of hotrod jockeys along to set the pace.
Johnson is at Wakefield Park, laughing and joking with his old boss between laps in an MPS in Targa kit.
‘‘Can you believe how quick this thing is?’’ Johnson laughs, halfway through my passenger lap in an MPS. He might have turned 65, and running Jim Beam Racing in the V8 Supercar championship keeps him stressed, but I’m thinking the same thing about the driver.
The cars are fun and fast but there is one that is just plain special. It’s the ’94 Bathurst winner and I know it well after standing beside H for the full 12 hours at Mount Panorama.
I’m not sure what to expect, but the RX-7 is quick and composed and far easier to drive than I’d thought.
It is relatively cushy in the suspension, which was developed to handle the bumps at Mount Panorama, and not as punchy as many modern cars despite its turbo rotary.
Then it’s time for the RX-8 SP and it could not be more different. Today’s Mazda Motorsport headliner is an allout racecar, firing flames from the exhaust, lifting wheels through corners, and generally behaving like a custom-built competition machine.
It’s fast-fast-fast and fun-fun-fun, but not a car for amateurs. So one car is about memories, and the other is making memories.
But my favourite in the Wakefield Park pack is a stock-looking Mazda3 MPS. It has competition suspension, better brakes and a turbo engine with much bigger lungs than the regular road car.
I’m no fan of the regular MPS, but this car is quicker in every way, yet more refined and easier to drive.
It also reminds me of the genius of Allan Horsley. I only wish he could wave his magic wand over more Mazdas and get the Japanese to build them at the factory.