At the time Mazda first showed up at Daytona in 1979, no one took care of this new team that came from Japan. They had come the previous year with RX3 cars and had applied what they had learned on the track. The two cars were destined to be driven by Japanese and American drivers. After qualifying first and second in class, they steadily dominated the race, to finish in fifth and sixth position overall. Yoshimi Katayama-Yojiro Terada-Takashi Yorino winning the GTU category and Walt Bohren-Jim Downing-Roger Mandeville second. It was not the first time Mazda entered an RX7 in an IMSA event as Al Cosentino was the first to enter such a car. Following their domination, IMSA decided to add an extra 458lbs to the cars. After a while, and following the drivers concerns about the extra weight, they reduced it to zero. The factory cars had been sold to Roger Mandeville and Jim Downing. At the end of the 1979 season, Don Devendorf won the title for Datsun, but Bob Bergstrom took second place in a Mazda.
Walt Bohren at Mid Ohio
Copyright Mark Windecker
For 1980, teams and alliances changed, Brad Frisselle was chosen as Mazda's "official" driver and received a great financial support. He campaigned a Dave Kent prepared car. Racing Beat and Walt Bohren received some financial support too, but it was much more limited so they could not run a full season schedule. Pierre Honegger entered a new Holman and Moody car for the endurance events. The first success for a Mazda came at Sebring when Roger Mandeville, Jim Downing and Brad Frisselle took the GTU victory. As Mazdas went on to win every race but three in the season, they easily won the Championship. Walt Bohren won the title.
In 1981, new teams appeared as former ones disappeared, and Dave Kent did enter as a new race team. Racing Beat did not field any car that year. The financial support went to Dave Kent's team. The drivers would be Walt Bohren and Lee Mueller. Kathy Rude and Jim Mullen would join the team on some occasions. Cars were being steadily improved and, as fuel injection had been banned in 1981, mufflers were required to limit the decibel rate. New air filters, water radiators and large oil coolers. The power varied from 270 to 300hp. Dave Kent had modified his cars : they sported now several aerodynamic modifications. They did sweep the opposition and won eleven races out of sixteen. Lee Mueller won the Championship. Jim Downing was running a car that was backed by BF Goodrich, running on street tyres, as was Roger Mandeville's. Jim Downing's car was to become the MOST successful car in IMSA history. The cars were destined to run mainly the endurance events. They had trouble setting the cars, mainly because of the street tyres, which required some specific settings for the cars.
In 1982, Mazda was a major force in GTU, and everyone racing a Mazda felt like being part of a great family. Everyone would help each other, especially Roger Mandeville and Jim Downing, who shared their experience with less supported teams. These two drivers had been chosen by Mazda for factory support. At Daytona, Mazda entered a works team of Japanese drivers, they won their class and finished fourth overall with their usual lineup of drivers. They won the 24 Hours of Daytona for their last race with Mazda. The 1982 season was to be a battle throughout the season between Roger Mandeville and Jim Downing. Their battle was quite fair as each other would help the other one if ever he got into trouble with his car. At the end of the season, it was Jim Downing who won the Championship, it was a very tight victory, as he won at the Daytona Finale and made the difference at this very race. Mazda drivers did claim eight of the top-ten positions in the Championship.
Roger Mandeville at Mid Ohio 1982
Copyright Mark Windecker
In 1983, Racing Beat entered a car in the GTO category. It was a real challenge as they had to fight more powerful racers. They won at Daytona for their first race and proved the car's reliability. The car displayed any of the latest aerodynamical improvements that had been made through a lot of testing sessions, and the drivers could run their car very hard. The drivers were Pete Halsmer and Rick Knoop. Their win at Daytona was the highest finishing place for a Mazda in the 24Hour race. The team then made a wonderful race at Sebring, when they nearly won the race but were sidelined by a brake rotor. In GTU, Mazdas still dominated the category. At Sebring, it was Jack Dunham, Jeff Kline and Jon Compton who won the race. Roger Mandeville had a brand new car, a tube-frame RX7 fitted with a 12A sideport engine. His bet was to compensate the lower horsepower with a lighter car. He won his first race at Miami, and four other races in the year, claiming the Championship. Jim Downing, preparing a new GTP Car for the next season, had a short season, but finished second to Roger Mandeville.
In 1984, things changed and Roger Mandeville campaigned a RX7 in the GTO category. With ever consistent high finishes, he finally clinched the Championship, beating much more powerful cars. Jim Downing's car had been sold to Ira Young, Malibu Grand Prix owner. The former had hired Clayton Cunningham, to prepare the car. The lead driver was to be Jack Baldwin, a driver who had run mainly in Formula Ford. He and Bob Reed and Jim Cook won at Daytona, Sebring and three other races. They never had a dnf and clinched the Championship at Michigan. Jack Dunham and Jeff Kline won two races to finish second and third.
In 1985, Roger Mandeville had built another car to defend his GTO title. They had a tough year as Roush Racing was beginning to dominate the category. He finished fourth. In GTU, the Malibu Grand Prix Team received some factory support and had to face a new opposition in the name of Pontiac. Amos Johnson developed a new tube-frame car. Mike Meyer Racing now entered car for Scott Pruett and Paul Lewis. At Daytona, the car entered for Johnson-Dunham-Terada won the GTU category with a car that had never been raced before. Jack Baldwin retired for the first time in this race. He won five races in the year to win his second straight Championship. At Road America, he and Jeff Kline won the sixty seventh race for Mazda. Mazda won the GTU title for the sixth year in a row. Jack Baldwin's car was winning its third Championship.
In 1986, Mazda won again the GTU Championship, this time with young Tom Kendall, who beat Roger Mandeville, back again in GTU, and Amos Johnson. The car was now owned by Clayton Cunningham and it won again! Roger Mandeville was preparing a new three rotor car he debuted at the Daytona Finale. This car was to be campaigned for the next season, and the engine developed 450hp.
In 1987, Tom Kendall won his second straight Championship, always with the same car! A stunning result for a single car. The car was now ending its career, and CCR fielded a new car at the end of the season. Amos Johnson entered the winners' circle four times that year. Al Bacon won for the first time at Sebring. Roger Mandeville's effort in GTO did not reward him better than tenth overall, and he could not fight against V8s and V6s.
In 1988, he was joined by CCR who campaigned a similar car. Their best result was a couple of fifth, Mandeville claimed two thirds. It was not sufficient to hope better results. In GTU, it was the first year Mazda did not win the Championship as Tom Kendall repeated his win, but on a Chevrolet Beretta. Mazda was edged slightly. Amos Johnson could have won, he did drive a new lightweight RX7 but the car was destroyed in the race and Kendall took the win. He won at Daytona with his usual car and Sebring was the second and only other race of the year with a Mazda win.
Roger Mandeville new GTO car
Copyright Mark Windecker
At this point, it seemed for Mazda that it was time to switch for a new car, the MX6, and began preparations for fielding a new four-rotor car. For most part of the racers, Mazda would not continue its support in 1989. They won again at Daytona, as Al Bacon shared his winning car with Bob Reed and Rod Millen. Roger Mandeville entered his GTO car for some consistent finishes but his program was stopped by mid-season. In GTU, the MX6 would take the advantage over the RX7s. Al Bacon won his second race of the season. At the end of the season, it was Nissan who took the Championship with Bob Leitzinger.
In 1990, the Mazda factory effort was concentrated on one sole team : Jim Downing's. The cars would be Lee Dykstra-designed four-rotor Mazda RX7s. Pete Halsmer, the 1989 Champion, would be the lead driver. The new cars debuted at Daytona and Amos Johnson, Jim Downing and John O'steen finished second. At Sebring, Pete Halsmer, John Morton and Elliot Forbes Robinson took third. At San Antonio, Pete Halsmer scored Mazda's 100th win. In GTU, Lance Stewart took the Championship.
Pete Halsmer's quadrirotor Mazda RX7
Copyright Mark Windecker
In 1990, Mazda took again the Daytona 24 Hours victory and the rest of the season Mazda's victories were taken by Mandeville's cars. The latter had quit driving and was now managing his team. Lance Stewart was the driver and he won the Championship driving the MX6. It was then obvious that the Mazda RX7 career had come to an end.
In 1991, Mazda again won at Daytona with Dick Greer's car, Roger Mandeville took third on a new RX7 car. At that time, many indepedant drivers still fielded RX7s. But no victories were to be seen by Mazda this year. The GTU Champion was John Fergus, driving a Nissan 240SX. In GTO, the battle between Ford and Mazda raged but Mazda took its first GTO Championship. They had achieved their goal. The RX7 career had come to an end but the car remains the winningest car ever in the IMSA GT Championship. It will be remembered by many racers as one of the most noisy too : the Mazda RX7 has set its mark forever.