What we saw at the Mazda Fan Festa at Fuji Speedway
What a day.
The heat wasn’t what we were expecting. It’s 3:00 PM and we hadn’t had lunch yet because the lines were too long. Our feet have put in well over 20,000 steps (probably) and I can feel my face. It’s cooked. Medium well.
Satisfaction, at this point in time, was a simple bench in the shade outside our hotel as the cooler afternoon breeze started to make its welcome presence felt. And just as it did, the clouds in the distance started to clear up, revealing Mount Fuji for me.
How I wish these clouds disappeared a few hours ago while we were at the Fuji Speedway for the Mazda Fan Festa.
Several hours prior, we were just sitting in a bus in an extraordinary traffic jam. All around us was an assortment of privately owned Mazda vehicles of the JDM variety. Demio (2), Axela (3), Atenza (6), 323, Lantis (Astina), 626, Premacy, RX-7, and of course, many varieties and generations of the MX-5 and Eunos Roadster.
While the Fuji Speedway is a huge venue, an event like this tends to clog up the roads inside the racetrack’s grounds. But being Japan, there was no honking of horns (that’s extremely rude here) nor was there anyone who would dare cross the solid yellow line to counterflow. There was order, even as everyone was antsy about getting parked and into the venue.
I slide open the window to get a few shots, only to be greeted by a whiff/stench/scent of unburnt fuel emanating from the vintage 929 erratically idling to my right. Such is the rotary engine life.
There was a palpable excitement in the air to go along with the smell of fuel. While Mazda usually holds the Fan Festa twice a year, this 2023 edition at Fuji Speedway was the first since the pandemic. I too was excited; it’s my first time back since the pandemic too.
Mazda Fan Festa is an automotive festival unlike any other; a way for Mazda to connect with its loyal fans all around Japan. They bring out many of their cars from the museum, as well as heritage racecars that they competed and won with. And yes, it’s a Japan-only event; as such, there isn’t much English around. Even the event schedule was written only in hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Whatever Japanese I still know from my school days here as a kid will come in handy.
We get to the drop-off area just in time, as based on the schedule the historic race cars will be out on the track. We walk briskly past the parked cars and look for a seat on Fuji’s main grandstand. The sun was bearing down, but I didn’t care (I’ll regret that later). The sound of those loud, race-prepped rotary engines from a bygone era of Mazda was more than worth the fact that I forgot my cooling sleeves, sunblock, and a cap. I’ll have plenty of time to regret it later.
The first runs were loud. And proud. The symphony gives you goosebumps; making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. If you’re a church person, it’s like hearing the choir sing O Come All Ye Faithful in perfect harmony. Fuji is our cathedral, we are the faithful, and the choir is right there on the track.
I stand up, and head towards the tunnel to cross under the main straight because I wanted to get a different glimpse for the finale of the runs: the #55 Mazda 787B in the livery of their sponsor clothing company Renown. They don’t bring this car out much, so getting to hear it run in anger is something wouldn’t want to miss.
Just as I exit the tunnel on the far side, I can hear the 787B being fired up in the pits. I double-time it to the natural amphitheater made by Fuji’s Turn 6 and 7. There, I met up with Aurick; a true Mazda fanboy and RX-7 rotary sufferer, er, enthusiast. I can see the glee in his eyes and ears as the 787B made its first pass, blipping the throttle as the driver did so. There is no sound like it, and no words will ever do it justice.
The car is a superstar; that’s why the most popular plate number for any Mazda owner in Japan tends to have the digits 7 8 7. The reason is that in the hands of three Formula One drivers, the 787B screamed to victory at the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans a full 2 laps ahead of the second-place car. It is the only time a rotary-engined car won the race and the first victory of a Japanese manufacturer. Toyota would only be able to achieve the same feat over three and a half decades later.
Once the goosebumps went away from the screams of the #55, it was time to walk around the huge paddock area behind the pit building. Instead of big F1-style trailer trucks, the paddock hosts a variety of attractions for those who want to expend some yen or swipe their cards. I was just glad they didn’t have a Tomica booth (at least I didn’t see one).
I was particularly drawn to a power tool booth that had some pretty awesome prices, but some of the other guys I was with gravitated towards the merch like shirts, stickers, books, and even some car parts. Let’s hope those brake parts they ordered actually get shipped back to the Philippines.
What really drew my eye was the gathering of Mazda vehicles there. They had rows upon rows of neatly parked vehicles of each club. One row was occupied only by classic Mazda Cosmo sportscars with a row of Mazda MX-5s.
Walk around and you’ll spot SUVs and MPVs, neatly organized too. The same goes for the Demio group, the Atenza group, and even the Premacy/Mazda5 group. What was really cool was to see a row of Autozam AZ-1 kei sports cars with their gullwing doors. You don’t see these cars outside of Japan, and definitely not in this number.
In the garages of the pit building are all the racecars that Mazda brought out on the track, resting for their second run in the afternoon. Normally, these cars are just found in the museum or in a secret, special access garage at their headquarters, but now they’re here. And they are all in running order. You can see the progression of Mazda in the World Sportscar Championship in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, culminating in the 787B before the FIA banned rotary engines. Shame.
Just as I was about to take a selfie with the cars, another rotary in the garage just roared to life. It was drifter Mad Mike, and he was taking out his RX-7 for a demo run. It was pretty insane to watch him drift around another car that was just crawling on idle on the main straight.
Seeing as I wanted to get a peek at everything by lunchtime, I walked on over to a quieter section of the garage, one that housed a collection of Mazda models from the new MX-30 to all the vintage cars and ‘90s vehicles we know, all the way up to where it began: the three-wheeled Mazda truck that boosted post-war mobility for Japan.
That has been the buzzword of the auto industry as of late: mobility. Car manufacturers are trying to rebrand as mobility companies while motor shows are now being referred to as mobility shows, all to highlight the desire to be more inclusive to other kinds of transport even though most of what we see are automobiles. There’s nothing wrong with that, but my personal take is this: mobility doesn’t imply any kind of passion or enthusiasm.
That is what Mazda is showing us with the Fan Festa: passion. While all car companies put numbers first be it in sales, export, production, and profit, Mazda puts just as much of their soul into what they do. That’s why their cars elicit a very unique reaction when people see them. That’s why people smile when they get a chance to drive it. That’s why you get a tingling sensation when any of the great Wankel-powered cars scream past at 9000 rpm at the Fan Festa.
Perhaps that's what's special about the Mazda Fan Festa. It is a celebration of like-minded enthusiasts brought together by their love for the brand. The timing couldn't be more perfect, especially since the very automobile enthusiasm we cherish has waned somewhat in the last few years.
Mazda Philippines knows this well; after all, this company is not just about selling a car but about selling a passion you just don't find anywhere else. No, they won't have big numbers like the other big players in our industry, but a lot of Mazda owners we've encountered enjoy the brand more because it feels a bit more special.
Even the way Mazda appoints dealers here isn't just a matter of putting out some money for a showroom like you would for many of the companies out there, but rather a more personal application to represent the brand. Steven Tan, the chief of Mazda Philippines, makes sure that is the way. He wants to see a dealer's dedication to the brand because he too is dedicated with a passion.
Yes, mobility may be the way forward for many "mobility" companies as they seek to broaden into the concept of moving people.
Motoring -especially with Mazda- is different. It goes beyond. It’s about being moved.