1991 role: Chassis Engineering Gr., Vehicle Engineering Dept.
Current role: Driveline Development Gr., Powertrain Development Div.
The start of our Le Mans challenge
Ever since I joined Mazda, I wanted to work in motorsports. I was invited to join the Le Mans project by Takao Kijima, Mazda's suspension specialist and the RX-7's development engineering leader.
My initial problem was that, at that time, our race car was being developed by Mazdaspeed at their offices in Tokyo, so there were no accurate engineering drawings in Hiroshima. Tasked with ensuring the race car would remain stable at high speeds, even through the corners, I and my team of engineers rushed back and forth between Hiroshima and Tokyo, creating a computer model of the suspension setup.
Although I was unable to go to Le Mans for the 1991 race, I continued to perform computer simulations of suspension geometry adjustments and I was faxing through the results right up until the race started. In this way I helped us to determine the car's optimum settings.
Mazda's enduring conviction and enthusiasm
Even today, the knowledge that we managed to win Le Mans at our last chance still inspires me and I feel that we can accomplish anything if we try hard enough. I feel that there are many people at Mazda with this kind of drive and self confidence, not just those of us with direct involvement in Le Mans.
Since our Le Mans victory, Mazda has experienced some very challenging times. For example, when Mazda's business conditions changed, there was serious concern that the rotary engine might be discontinued. However, we overcame all the issues and launched the rotary powered RX-8. Mazda has always had a strong belief that "the fire of the rotary engine will never be snuffed out." It was this enthusiasm that led us to succeed.
The culmination of our technology development:
Four years ago, I transferred from chassis development to powertrain development, and currently I am working on developing the driveline for the SKYACTIV-PLATFORM which will be used in Mazda's new-generation products. I feel that I am using the experience, know-how and desire for new challenges that I learned from Le Mans in the development of our new production vehicles. As an engineer, I think my greatest achievement would be if these new vehicles are well received by our customers.
Because of Mazda's modest scale, we have a close internal communication network that enables us to efficiently collaborate and coordinate with other departments on group projects. This is a great strength of Mazda and it allows us to undertake new challenges and swiftly implement whatever needs to be done.
Mazda's victory in 1991 was by no means lucky.Kazutoyo Watanabe Interview
1991 role: ME Testing & Research Gr., Powertrain Testing & Research Dept.