Mazda hailed the 2006 Britcar Silverstone 24 Hours a round-the-clock success as all three of its RX-8s saw the chequered flag on Sunday afternoon for the second year in succession.
Reliability is the key to endurance racing and Mazda's strong showing was due to the RX-8's outstanding durability and its unique rotary engine, coupled with immaculate teamwork under extreme pressure.
This weekend's Britcar 24 Hour Endurance Race at Silverstone saw all three Mazda RX-8s that finished last year's 24 hour race complete the round the clock marathon of flat out racing for the second consecutive year.
Reliability is the key to endurance racing and it was the outstanding durability of the Mazda RX-8 and its unique rotary engine coupled with immaculate team work under extreme pressures that ensured the three production cars could complete the 24 hour endurance, covering a distance of 1,597 miles on the same engines that have now done a season with Formula Woman, a season of endurance races and two 24 hour races without missing a beat.
The three cars were driven again by an experienced endurance racing driver line-up as well as a team of motoring media racing drivers. Race Car 96 was led by regular Mazda endurance racing driver Mark Ticehurst who was joined by ex-F1 driver and veteran 24 hour endurance racing driver Mike Wilds, Auto Express journalist and experienced racing driver Owen Mildenhall and touring car and sportscar specialist Ian Flux, all of whom drove with Mazda in the 24 hour race last year.
The second Mazda RX-8 Race Car 98 was headed by ex-Lotus and Arrows F1 driver Martin Donnelly – for the second year - along with experienced endurance racing driver David Leslie, who raced the famous Mazda 767B to a successful finish at Le Mans in 1990. David and Martin's combined F1 and Le Mans endurance race car experience complimented our three motoring journalist drivers Andrew Frankel from The Sunday Times Driving section - who competed last year - freelance motoring writer Ben Whitworth and car magazine editor Jason Barlow who both raced with Mazda for the first time this year. The third car, sponsored by the Financial Times, was headed by experienced endurance racer John Griffiths with his team from last year Rachel Green, Richard Chamberlain and Andy Shephard.
Due to the success of the Mazda RX-8 in last year's S1 Production Series of Britcar endurance racing the race organisers for this year's 24 hour Britcar changed the Class classification for the Mazda Race Team. This resulted in Mazda RX-8 Race Car 96 competing with cars that were highly modified, significantly lighter and no longer resembling their production base. The Mazda RX-8 endurance race car still retains its original unmodified RENESIS rotary engine whilst others in this higher Class benefited from significantly increased power. The RX-8 Race Car 96 was placed in Class 2 due to its carbon-fibre doors, which gives a weight advantage of 80kg over the other two RX-8s which remained in Class 3.
In qualifying Ian Flux placed the Mazda RX-8 Race Car 96 in fourth position in Class 2 for the race with a lap time of 2:11.50. David Leslie placed Car 98 second in Class 3 with a lap time of 2:13.28, while the FT team placed Car 97 third in Class 3 with a lap time of 2:13.51. Mazda endurance racing driver Mark Ticehurst missed the day qualifying session to attend to his newly-born daughter and made it back to Silverstone for the night qualifying and the race.
Fifty two cars started the race at 5pm on Saturday with thirty five making it to the finish at 5pm Sunday including all three Mazda RX-8 Race Cars. All three cars ran very strongly into the evening until just after 9pm when Race Car 97 (sponsored by the FT) was hit by a Mosler GT car at a very fast part of the circuit, which resulted in a huge impact with a marshalls' post. Racing driver Rachel Green was severely shaken but uninjured due to the strength of the Mazda RX-8 chassis. The Mazda RX-8 Race Team worked throughout the night into the early hours to repair the damage and get the car back onto the circuit. This was a momunental effort by the technical team and against the odds they were able to ensure Race Car 97 rejoined the race on Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, Race Cars 96 and 98 held a strong position in their Classes with the racing drivers doing an average of two hour stints throughout the night into dawn. As dawn broke fog engulfed the circuit at Silverstone causing the Safety Car to go out for three and a half hours - much to the drivers' frustration. Race Car 96 had some minor problems with the 6-speed racing gearbox which resulted in a gearbox change to a standard RX-8 6-speed gearbox by which time crucial time had been lost.
Throughout Sunday morning and into the afternoon Race Car 98 continued to lead the team followed by Cars 96 and 97 - both of which had no further problems. As the race drew to a close, Car 98 developed an electrical fault on the Hanger Straight with just 25 minutes to go. Efforts from the Mazda Race Team ensured the car finished the race by crossing the line in the pits in true Zoom Zoom spirit. Race Cars 96 and 97 crossed the line after completing 467 laps and 339 laps respectively of the 3.194 mile circuit.
The three Mazda RX-8s were essentially production cars with only the suspension changed to account for the slick tyres and safety equipment fitted to conform to RACMSA, (Royal Automobile Club Motor Sports Association), race rules. The rotary engine and gearbox are standard and the same as found on the road-going version.
All three Mazda RX-8 race cars were entered by Mazda Motors UK/Guglielmi Motorsport led by Team Director Steve Guglielmi who commented: "The cars which we used in the 24 Hour Britcar Endurance Race are based on the standard, road‑going Mazda RX-8 sports coupés. The seats and many interior panels have been removed, and each car has undergone a number of essential safety modifications – including the addition of a roll‑cage, fire extinguisher, race seat and some suspension alterations necessary for racing.
"The revolutionary 1.3-litre, 231 ps RENESIS rotary engine is standard and the only slight modification we have made is to fit a racing gearbox."
Mazda PR Director Graeme Fudge commented: "This 24 hour endurance success further reinforces the reliability and exciting handling of the Mazda RX-8 and the rotary engine. To enter three cars in this sort of reliability test and have all three finish is a testament to the quality of the Mazda RX-8 and the dedication and commitment of the whole team."
Third 24 Hour Challenge for Mazda RX-8
The 2006 24 Hour Britcar Endurance Race marks the Mazda RX-8's third 24 hour event which started back in October 2004 when Mazda set a total of 40 international records with two Mazda RX-8s during a 24-hour record attempt on the 12.3 km oval at the automotive proving grounds in Papenburg, Germany. The two 231ps Mazda RX-8s drove more than 5,000 kms during the 24-hour record attempt with average speeds of 212 and 215 km/h.