Mazda’s all stars

The golden oldies come out for a spe­cial track day, writes Paul Gover

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Motorsport -

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.

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