In fact, you could argue that the Mazda rotary engine’s road to Le Mans actually began way back in 1967 when Takayoshi Ohashi – Mazda’s main Tokyo distributor – set up his own race team and tuning workshop. Calling his new firm ‘Mazda Sports Corner’, Ohashi ran cars both nationally and internationally. By 1982, Mazda Sports Corner had become Mazdaspeed, still run by Ohashi, and now tackling events such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans in highly modified RX‑7s. In 1982, a Mazdaspeed RX‑7254i driven by Yojiro Terada, Takashi Yorino, and Allan Moffat finished 14th.

In that same year, FISA introduced the new Group C class. This new sports car class included fuel consumption regulations as well as a Group C Junior class.

Up to this point, Mazdaspeed had concentrated on developing the first generation RX‑7 for racing, but now they began to look at more advanced options and commissioned Mooncraft, the race car constructor who had previously designed the aerodynamic add-ons for the racing RX‑7s, to design and build a car for the Group C Junior class. The resulting 717C, powered by a 13B rotary engine, debuted at Le Mans in 1983, and although they proved difficult to drive, especially at high speed down the famous Mulsanne Straight, they finished 12th and 18th overall.

Initial handling and downforce problems were solved with subsequent cars, the 727C and 737C.

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