While Mazda was present with a reduced, single-car effort for the second consecutive TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race, work continues on its transition to a gasoline-powered engine for later this year.
The Japanese manufacturer made the late decision to delay the debut of the AER-tuned four-cylinder turbo powerplant, opting instead to field only its diesel-powered No. 07 Mazda prototype at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.
According to Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan, the decision was taken with a long-term target in mind.
“We’re all racers,” Doonan told Sportscar365. “You want to come to the race track and race and you’re unable to, it’s difficult.
“At the same time, I think people need to remember that all of the companies that are here are big businesses and there’s processes to go through. There’s an additional process to go through.”
The engine, which has already been fitted into the No. 70 SpeedSource entry, completed a two-day test at Palm Beach International Raceway earlier this month, although Doonan said additional testing will likely occur before it makes its race debut.
“Multimatic has been tremendous with the install and what SpeedSource has done is over the moon,” Doonan said.
“We’ve had a long relationship with AER. They understand what the Mazda brand is trying to do. They’ve done things with their engine over the years that fully align with that.”
While having previously been used in the Mazda-powered Dyson Lolas in the American Le Mans Series, the revised is poised to deliver an increase in performance and reliability, two areas the prototype program has struggled with since its debut.
According to Doonan, the AER engine also shares the pillars of Mazda’s core philosophy.
“It’s the way the brand is headed, with the four-cylinder and it’s got all the attributes of SKYACTIV,” he said. “It’s high compression, lightweight, a single turbo. It’s got all the things that our brand talks about.
“I truly believe this, no marketing speak, that you can learn things off the engine that can be future road car stuff.
“We’ve kind of done the opposite of that with the diesel. We took it and just pushed it way beyond its limits, fixed it, and kept pushing.
“I think at the end of the day, what we’ve done with the diesel has been an absolute miracle.
“It may not be competing for race wins or podiums at the moment, but at the same time we are looking forward to 2017 and understand directionally where things are headed.”
The transition to gas power will mark a change in direction for Mazda, which is currently in the third year of a planned five-year development program with its SKYACTIV-D technology.
However, with diesel engines set to no longer be eligible for IMSA competition in 2017, once the new ACO-based LMP2 regulations are introduced, Mazda is poised to take a new long-term approach.
“Immediately after Daytona, we started planning for the future,” Doonan said. “The series is talking about a single fuel supply for 2017, meaning petrol engines.
“Based on the way the FIA and ACO have gone, diesel is not allowed in LMP2. So it would make sense that would be the case here as well.”
A timeline for the gas-powered engine’s debut has not yet been finalized, although Doonan admitted they have a number of options.
It includes a third chassis, which SpeedSource recently acquired, that could be put into action should there be a need.
“I don’t know about the next test day or exactly when we’re going to enter a race [with the gas engine] but I can assure you that we’re going to push to do that as soon as possible,” Doonan said.
“Our intention as a brand is to continue to move it forward. To me, on the race track, that means competing up front. That’s my hope with this new package.”