1990 IMSA GTU champ still enjoys the thrill of racing, and of racing a Mazda.
Lance Stewart, the 2015 runner-up in Touring 4 at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs, has a long history with Mazda. He won the IMSA GTU championship in 1990 in the factory MX-6, winning races at Heartland Park, Portland and Road America, after a year in a privateer Mazda.
“I started out actually driving for another manufacturer, and in 1989 a good friend of mine got a deal to do GTU with Mazda,” Stewart recounts. “He asked me to drive, and I said yes. We had a pretty good year and at the end of the season, Mazda came and said they’d like me to drive the factory GTU car with [Roger] Mandeville, and I said, ‘Absolutely!’ That was a dream year. We won the championship, and we won it decisively. It was one of the high points, if not the high point, of my career.”
Now Stewart races for fun, returning to his club racing roots. This year, he also returned to Mazda after competing in a variety of production-based classes over the last decade with several different manufacturers. The reason for bringing the RX-8 to Daytona International Speedway to compete in Touring 4 this year was simple.
“Dave Mead is a longtime Mazda guy. We looked at the RX-8 last year, and we said, ‘Daytona is the place for that car.’ Dave was right – it was flawless, it was perfect. We were at a horsepower disadvantage, but another lap or two, we would have won; [the winner] was out of tires and out of brakes. There was nothing else we could have done and we did what we did really well. I would not have wanted another car. That RX-8, to me, was the class of the field.”
Touring 4 is a largely stock-based class, but cars are allowed certain modifications, and it varies by car, but those modifications are generally kept to a minimum (certain allowances are made for more heavily modified cars prepared to a specific ruleset, such as MX-5 Cup cars in Touring 3). In the case of the RX-8, that’s a spring and shock package. The real benefit to the car, Stewart notes, isn’t an allowance but something that came from the factory.
“Because we have a fully adjustable suspension on the RX-8 – and that rotary motor is a phenomenal engine – we knew it would work here,” he explains. “Even with the lack of torque, the fact that the 6-speed transmission allows us to keep the power band where we want it, and the way you can set the suspension up, it was a dramatic difference between the Mustangs and Hondas. We just came up a bit short on the straights.”
The bad news for his competitors? He thinks the car will be even better at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the location of the 2016 SCCA National Championship Runoffs.