Mazda has been away from the winner's circle at Le Mans for some time now. But it could be preparing a return to the forefront at the famous French endurance race in the near future. That is, at least, if the racing enthusiasts within its ranks get their way.
"I know that the expectation for us to return to Le Mans is high. I can imagine a day when Mazda returns," Nobuhiro Yamamoto told Top Gear at the Goodwood Festival of Speed this past weekend. "I hope - as with many other Mazda fans - that we go back to Le Mans." His words hardly serve as confirmation of the Zoom-Zoom brand's intentions, but they certainly speak rather loudly to a desire within its ranks.
They hardly come out of left field, either. Yamamoto-san is arguably the man best positioned to spearhead such a campaign – or would at least be best informed if such a campaign were underway. He's currently the program manager for the MX-5, and decades ago was the racing engineer behind the 787B. That Group C prototype racer represented Mazda's last major effort at taking top honors at Le Mans, and take them it did when it won the race outright in 1991.
The Japanese automaker was out in force this past weekend at Goodwood, the event's central sculpture honoring Mazda's racing history, and its presence only fueling rumors that it could be preparing a renewed assault on endurance racing – potentially once again under rotary power. The 787B, motorsport history buffs will tell you, represented the first and last time to date that a Japanese manufacturer won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Although Toyota has been competing with Audi and Porsche at the front of the field with the TS040 Hybrid, it has yet to win the key race, despite having taken the FIA World Endurance Championship last year.
"Everyone at Mazda would love to see the only Japanese company to ever win the 24 Hours of Le Mans return to the famed twice-around-the-clock classic," a spokesman for Mazda's North American motorsports department said by correspondence. "Whether that'll actually happen isn't something we can discuss at this time, but, given our historical and current involvement in motorsports, our interest in the event should be no surprise to anyone. We agree with Yamamoto-san when he says he hopes it happens."
So while Mazda may not be ready to confirm the prospect of its return to Le Mans, it certainly isn't ruling it out, either. In the meantime it will continue running the Skyactiv Prototype in the United SportsCar Championship on this side of the Atlantic - although it could switch away from the diesel engine it's been running until now: "As of today, the decision has not been made regarding what engine (or combination thereof) we will be racing at the next Tudor event," we were told.