LAST weekend two Mazda rotary-powered Le Mans race cars from yesteryear excited the crowds of today at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Bringing back the excitement of racing at Le Mans, the two BF Goodrich Mazda-Lola T616 race cars sped up the famous hill climb giving the crowds a taste of how the cars set the stage for continued Mazda motorsport successes around the world back in 1984.

Watched by motorsport enthusiasts under humid Sussex skies, the two Mazda-Lola T616s joined the 'Legends of Le Mans' class for the three days of the festival where the twin 1,300cc Mazda rotary engines, putting out 300bhp, roared against the growls of their conventionally-powered contemporaries along the famous Goodwood race circuit. The immaculately restored factory team cars were piloted by the original Le Mans racing drivers Jim Busby and Rick Knoop from California who were kitted out in their period driver suits and all the team apparel from 1984.

Each Mazda race car has a high-revving lightweight motor with 9,000rpm gearshifts and aerodynamics that rival modern jets. With a top speed of over 190mph, the Mazda-Lola race cars boast whip-like handling and excellent power-to-weight ratio. Rick Knoop spoke about the Mazda rotary engine: "The technique of driving a rotary is very different to driving a conventional-engined racecar. You have to keep the power at proper range and be consistent. If you get it right then it is one of the most rewarding motors that you will ever race.

"The rotary engine is consistent and reliable; it is a trade mark of Mazda. The power achieved by the low weight and rotary combination is phenomenal. It is an unbeatable package," Rick explained.

Accomplished racer Jim Busby commented: "It's the first time the team have returned to Europe in the 21 years since Le Mans so that created lots of attention. Goodwood for an American is such a great thrill. We saw all the old cars that we dreamt about as kids drive up the hill and now the cars are older and so are we, but we're all still going strong!