Mazda’s competition debut was on October 20, 1968 when two Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S coupes entered the 84 hour Marathon de la Route ultra-endurance race at the Nürburgring, one finishing in fourth place and the other breaking an axle after 81 hours. The next year, Mazda racedMazda Familia R100 M10A coupes. After winning the Singapore Grand Prix in April 1969 and coming in fifth and sixth in the Spa 24 Hours (beaten only by Porsche 911s), on October 19, 1969, Mazda again entered the 84 hour Nürburgring race with four Familias. Only one of these finished, taking fifth place.
In 1976, Ray Walle, owner of Z&W Mazda, drove a Cosmo (Mazda RX-5) from the dealership in Princeton, New Jersey, to Daytona, won the Touring Class Under 2.5 Liters at the 24 Hours of Daytona, and drove the car back to New Jersey. The Cosmo placed 18th overall in a field of 72. The only modifications were racing brake pads, exhaust, and safety equipment.
After substantial successes by the Mazda RX-2 and Mazda RX-3, the Mazda RX-7 has won more IMSA races in its class than any other model of automobile, with its hundredth victory on September 2, 1990. Following that, the RX-7 won its class in the IMSA 24 Hours of Daytona race ten years in a row, starting in 1982. The RX-7 won the IMSA Grand Touring Under Two Liter (GTU) championship each year from 1980 through 1987, inclusive.
In 1991, a four-rotor Mazda 787B (2622 cc actual, rated by FIA formula at 4708 cc) won the 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race outright. The 787B’s triumph remains unparalleled, as it remains the only non-piston-engined car ever to win at Le Mans, and Mazda is still the only team from outside Western Europe or the United States to have won at Le Mans – ironically after Nissan had closed down its World Sportscar Championship programme and Toyota had opted to take a sabbatical for most of 1991 in order to develop its 3.5-litre TS010. This led to a ban on rotary engines in the Le Mans race starting in 1992, which has since been rescinded. After the 1991 race, the winning engine was publicly dismantled for internal examination, which demonstrated that despite 24 hours of extremely hard use it had accumulated very little wear.
The Le Mans win in 1991 followed a decade of class wins from other Mazda prototypes, including the 757 and 767. The Sigma MC74 powered by a Mazda 12A engine was the first engine and team from outside Western Europe or the United States to finish the entire 24 hours of the Le Mans race, in 1974. Mazda is also the most reliable finisher at Le Mans (with the exception of Honda, who have entered only three cars in only one year), with 67% of entries finishing. Mazda will return to prototype racing in 2005 with the introduction of the Courage C65 LMP2 car at the American Le Mans Series race at Road Atlanta. This prototype racer uses the Renesis Wankel from the RX-8.
Mazdas have also enjoyed substantial success in World Land Speed competition, SCCA competition, drag racing, pro rally competition (the Familia appeared in the WRC several times during the late ’80s and early ’90s), the One Lap of Americarace (winning SUV & truck in a MazdaSpeed5), and other venues. Wankel engines have been banned for some time from international Formula One racing, as well as from United States midget racing, after Gene Angelillo won theNorth East Midget Racing Association championship in 1985 with a car powered by a 13B engine, and again in 1986 in a car powered by a 12A engine.