Team Sahlen Keeps Rotary Flame Burning

The long time Mazda racers at Team Sahlen, presented by, continue to keep the flame of the Mazda rotary engine at the sharp edge of the pack in endurance racing.   In 2016 and 2017, the team secured overall victories in both the World Racing League and ChampCar Endurance Series with its Mazda RX7s. 

For the 2018 season, the team again would be racing their trio of rotary-powered Mazdas.  Team Sahlen competed in three different endurance series – American Endurance Racing, World Racing League and ChampCar Endurance Series.  Each series offered a unique set of car specs and competition rules.

At the end of the year, the team was successful in repeating an overall victory for the rotary engine at the fall ChampCar Endurance Series Pittsburgh Grand Prix held at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex.  This victory was a hard-fought battle, with the team’s Mazda winning by a scant four feet.

For Team Sahlen, winning again with the Mazda Rotary is a challenge they take personally. 

“It was amazing to win the seven-hour enduro by just four feet,” said Joe Sahlen. “Everyone knows how great handling all the Mazda Rotaries are.  Whether it is our current RX7s or the RX8s we raced in the ROLEX series, the amazing 50/50 weight balance of the cars make them a dream to drive.”

Team Sahlen’s history with Mazda in endurance racing in North America dates back beyond the past three years.  In fact, the team’s history spans all the way back to the early 90s.

Driver Will Nonnamaker shared fond memories from this period in the 1990s.

“In 1994, we debuted the Mazda MX6 in the IMSA Firestone Firehawk Endurance Series,” said Nonnamaker. “As with any new production car that is transformed into a race car, there is always considerable development work.  We worked closely with the Mazda Motorsports team in California to develop the MX6 into a consistent front runner.  In 1997, we were successful in winning the Street Touring Championship.  And we were able to follow that up in 1999, with the Mazda 626 in the Street Touring Championship.”

Over the next decade, Team Sahlen would continue to successfully campaign Mazda racers in endurance racing across North America.  These race cars in included the RX-8, Mazdaspeed3 and the RX-8 GT-class racer.  It was in the Mazda RX-8 GT racer that Team Sahlen was able to deliver the last ever professional victory for the Rotary motor at Mazda Raceway – at the GRAND-AM race at Laguna Seca in 2012.

Of special note, Wayne Nonnamaker drove the winning Mazda at both the 2012 victory as well as this year’s rotary victory at the ChampCar event at Pittsburgh.

“I am very proud to have been a part of the rich racing history of Mazda through the years,” said Nonnamaker. “And it’s very enjoyable to still be adding to that win tally for Mazda and their rotary motor over the past several years.”

For 2019, Team Sahlen will again be campaigning its trio of RX7s in the ChampCar Endurance Series in hopes to continue the rotary winning tradition.