Mazda Motor Corp <7261.T> forecast on Tuesday more than trebling its operating profit this year, counting on the Mazda5 minivan and other new models to drive a sales recovery in the United States and Japan.

For the year to March 2011, Mazda, held 11 percent by Ford Motor Co , expects an operating profit of 30 billion yen ($319.1 million), short of the average 43 billion yen forecast in a poll of 16 analysts, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

It expects annual net profit of 5 billion yen, against a loss of 6.48 billion yen in the year ended last month.

Japan's fifth-largest automaker is also due to launch the Mazda2/Demio subcompact in North America in a few months, following rivals into the growing segment of customers looking for smaller, fuel-efficient cars.

Shares in Mazda are the best performer among Japanese automakers in the year to date, soaring 28 percent. Tokyo's transport sector subindex <.ITEQP.T> fell 1.8 percent in the same period.

(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim)