ABOVE: Steve Bertok (L) with Dillon Machavern, Jonathan Black and Phil Kuhn.
Why is it that car companies race their product? In the beginnings of the auto industry, some would say since the second car was built, the innovators who built them have always sought to measure themselves against their competitors by pitting their cars against others. Originally these were tests of endurance to prove who had built the car most capable of running for long distances. The first Indy 500 run in 1911 took almost seven hours for the winner to complete while in Europe, races such as the Gordon Bennett Cup were well established as long distance tests of man and machine since as early as 1900. The most famous – and longest running – endurance race of them all, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, first took place in 1923.
From these beginnings, throughout the 20th century, car people continued to make advances in technology and showcase that technology on racetracks around the world. Racing served as the incubator for technology and a way to rapidly test innovations and for many brands, still does today. However, the commercialization of the sport in the mid and late 20th century also brought a need for entertainment to motor racing. The races became bigger and the stars became household names. And because of the need to build entertainment, the rules governing racing became ever stricter. The windows of opportunity to innovate technology are smaller now than in times past and the level of technology being used in production car development is so high that the direction of technology transfer has reversed in some cases.
While the first known case of an integrated rear view mirror used on a car was in that original 1911 Indy 500 (on Ray Harroun’s winning Marmon Wasp), the current Mazda RT24-P IMSA DPi Prototype, like many modern racing cars, uses an always on rear camera system, developed for road car use first.
Despite the narrowing window for technological innovation, one part of the original lure of motor racing remains as strong and perhaps stronger than ever and that is the challenge of measuring yourself – against competition and more importantly against your own boundaries. Motor racing is a sport that has always been driven by the need to go beyond expectations and to find and activate the challenger spirit that lives within.
Mazda has always been driven by its strong challenger spirit. Is it a basic human instinct that leads us to explore and break boundaries? From going to the Moon and next to Mars, to climbing the highest mountains and exploring the deepest oceans, mankind has a thirst for overcoming challenges in search of fulfillment and meaning. It is what it means to feel alive (Hashiru Yorokobi). For Mazda and many of our racing community, that challenger spirit manifests itself most clearly on the racetrack.