Morton Rides Again

Thirty years ago, A Mazda-powered car won at Le Mans. This wasn’t the famous 787B overall victory that came eight years later; this was a C2 category victory in which a 13B rotary-powered Lola finished 10th overall. That car, sponsored by BFGoodrich and run by Jim Busby, featured John Morton, John O’Steen and Yoshimi Katayama at the wheel. A sister car driven by Busby, Boy Hayje and Rick Knoop finished third in the category and 13th overall.

“For the most part I wasn’t involved in that program except for Le Mans,” recollects Morton 30 years later. “But we won the race and then Jim Busby, the team owner, hired me to drive on his IMSA team in ’85 and ’86. So it was a really good opening for me and my initiation into the BFGoodrich and Mazda camps. And I’ve had involvement with them ever since.”

It was one of the few successes for the Lola T616, a model not heavily adopted among race teams contesting the lighter, lower-powered counterpart to the Group C cars, much like an LMP2 car compared to an LMP1 car today.

“It wasn’t a hard car to drive,” says Morton. “It was relatively low powered, about 300hp. A 13B Mazda with a Lola 616 chassis, which was not a widely used car. Those are the two most famous ones, the two Busby cars. There was another one on the East Coast of the U.S. that ran an experimental plastic engine for a while and didn’t have much success. They made very few of them and I think that race in ’84 was the highlight for that model.”

It was also the introduction of BFGoodrich’s new radial race tire, which they declared were “street construction.” That meant that it was a racing slick with radial construction more like the road tires of the day, unlike the more common bias-ply tires.

To celebrate that victory, Mazda and BFGoodrich put together a special-liveried Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge car, mocked up in a scheme similar to the Lola, for Morton to drive in the Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich® Tires races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May.

“I didn’t do very well in the race, but I enjoyed it,” he says. “Those cars, they’re extremely easy to drive; but they’ve got some subtle nuances to get them to go real fast, and I haven’t figured it out. These kids…the younger ones are younger than my granddaughter, so they have some advantage in age. They’re just hard cars to figure out. A lot of guys have raced in this series for two years and are very good in them.”

Morton drove an MX-5 Cup car at Road Atlanta in 2010, so it’s always possible that there will be another appearance in the series. But, he notes, he’d like to have a little chat with some of the Skip Barber instructors before he gives it another go!