1991 role: Mazdaspeed Co., Ltd.
Current role: Technical Research Center
Returning to Le Man for the first time in 20 years
"Mazda received such a warm welcome." When I arrived at the track with the 787B, I immediately felt the warm atmosphere that seemed to be welcoming us back after 20 years. Le Mans is such a special place and returning there made me wish we were competing again. Even though we were only there for a demonstration run, I found the occasion very moving.
Twenty years ago, I worked for Mazdaspeed and was a mechanic in the pit crew for the winning number 55 car. My main responsibility was the gear box, but during the race I also handled the right front wheel changes.
During the Le Mans years, Mazdaspeed was responsible for development of the racecar bodies. Each year, we had to guess by how much the performance of the tires and Mazda's engine would improve. We used this to estimate the best balance between rigidity and weight for each part of the car. It was extremely difficult. If our estimate was lower than the actual performance improvement, parts of the car would be likely to break. And if our estimate was higher, the car would be overly heavy. I poured a lot of passion and energy into optimizing the shapes of parts to minimize weight and size while ensuring sufficient durability.
The moment when belief became victory
Before the race, we looked at the results of previous 24-hour races and testing, and we felt confident that we could finish in the top five. As the race went on, and we continued to hear news about the other cars running both in front of and behind the 787B, our confidence slowly changed into reality. When you enter a race, of course you aim to win. But motor racing is unpredictable and you never know what will happen, so I wasn't really expecting us to do it.
Just as I was thinking this, the Mercedes ahead of us dropped out with cooling trouble. I will never forget watching as the 787B steadily continued lapping and passed the Mercedes. We knew that the trailing Jaguars didn't have the speed to catch us, and I realized that, providing our car didn't break down, we would actually win.
Mazda's winning strength
I think that the experience of winning Le Mans boosted my motivation, and the motivation of the whole team, when we returned to work. For a winning team, the pressure to perform strongly is much greater afterward.
Even now, although I have changed to designing eco-cars (hydrogen rotary engine and EV), I still feel that my racing experience drives me to develop new things in short periods. I believe Mazda's strength lies in its workforce. Throughout the Mazda Group, our human resources are planning, implementing and developing through One Mazda, and are making our next-generation technologies a reality.