Japanese Manufacturers in Sportscar Racing

It's probably a little unfair to lump all the Japanese manufacturers together, but I don't claim to know a lot about them, especially their domestic racing, where sportscar racing is possibly the biggest form of motor racing.

Undoubtedly, the driving force in Japanese involvement in sportscar racing is a desire to win Le Mans.

There is a Japanese GT series website.

Mazda - Winners of Le Mans 1991

Mazda - Only Japanese Le Mans winners

Mazda led the way in World Sportscar racing by bringing one of their rotary engined cars to Le Mans. They've since become a well established presence at Le Mans and are, to date, the only Japanese maker to take that much valued win. Mazda claim that showroom sales increased by 30% after their 1991 win; remarkable, if true.

Mazda - Only Japanese Le Mans winners

In 2008, Mazda added a class win in GT at Daytona to their impressive record.

Mazda - Daytona class winners too!

Up against works Pontiacs and a phalanx of Porsche 911s, an RX-8 (four door, four seater design, albeit a spaceframe one in race form) took the class win.

Nissan - Top dog in the US.


Nissan have also been a frequent competitor at Le Mans and during the heydays of Group C. After dominating the IMSA series in the 80s, they moved over to the Group C series with a sleek, Lola built car, powered by an excellent V8 twin turbo engine. On many occassions the cars looked like outside bets for victory, but they proved a little fragile and the wins eluded them, both in the World Endurance Championship and at Le Mans.


In 1997, they returned to Sportscar racing in a big way with a TWR designed 'GT' powered by that Group C V8. In testing they were fast, but late changes to the cars (supposedly due to late clarification of the rules), led to gearbox problems, despite showing well in the early stages.

TWR Nissan, 1997

In 2010, Nissan returned to sportscar racing with a GT1 version of their GTR model.

Nissan GTR GT1 racer

Whilst the road car featured a V6 turbo engine, a 5 lite V8 was selected for the racer.

Toyota - Coming soon?

Toyota at Le Mans

Like Nissan, Toyota were regular competitors in the Group C days, with their V8 powered cars. They also struggled onto the end of the Group C days with a 3.5 litre V10 engined car, which came close to winning Le Mans a couple of times, once against the Peugeots and once against the Dauer-Porsche 962 'GT' car.

3.5 Litre Toyota

They also dabbled with a Supra in GT spec, but despite being highly competitive in the Japanese GT series, it proved overweight and ill-balanced at Le Mans.

The team returned in the late 1990s with the near Group C Toyota GT-ONE.

It ran at Le Mans twice, in 1998 and 1999

In 1999 the lone GT-ONE was closing down on the leading BMW prototype in the closing stages only to suffer a puncture and be forced to pit, resulting in an impressive, but ultimately disappointing, 2nd place overall.

Toyota GT-ONE

It only raced once more, at Fuji, where it finished second again, this time to a Nissan GT1 car.

In the 2000s, Toyota pursued a mostly fruitless F1 programme, but the Lexus (Toyota's upmarket brand) LFA supercar was built and raced (prior to release as a road car for a dizzying 350,000!) at the Nurburgring.

Lexus LFA

Honda - Half hearted Sportscar racers?

Unlike the other manufacturers, Honda have concentrated on F1 for their motor racing campaigns. However, they have run NSXs at Le Mans on a number of occasions, but despite good reliability, they've been too slow to make any real impact on the race.

Back To The Sportscar Racing Page