It is often said that rotary engines are unreliable. And yet, some of the greatest long-distance racers have been pistonless Mazdas, including what has been called the most successful endurance racer of all time: the Team Highball 1985 IMSA GTU RX-7.
The Team Highball RX-7 was the first tube-frame race car built to the new IMSA GTU rules for 1985. Its construction began in December 1984, shortly after the new rules were revealed, and finished just in time for the 1985 24 Hours of Daytona on February 3rd.
Though the current body bears the likeness of an FC3S, this look was adopted in 1987. It originally wore a first-generation RX-7 body and started life running a 12A rotary engine. It would later get upgraded to a 13B.
With official approval from Mazda, the car was piloted by Amos Johnson, Team Highball’s founder, the legendary Yojiro Terada, and Jack Dunham, who had raced RX-7s since 1981, the #71 RX-7 promptly won its class upon debut. It would go on to win the grueling 24 Hours of Daytona four straight years with Johnson behind the wheel.
By 1990, Johnson was poached by Mazda to drive the GTO car with Jim Downing. The Team Highball car was then rented to Peter Uria, who drove it to yet another class win at Daytona. At Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this year, Johnson was reunited with the #71 car.
Over the course of its career, the Team Highball RX-7 would clinch a total of eight class victories. It played a big part in making the Mazda RX-7 the winningest model in IMSA GT history. Even by itself, though, the Team Highball RX-7 was individually more successful than any other single endurance race car. And it was a rotary.