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Mazda Prototype; You can't fix ugly

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Mazda Motorsports is known for several things – sports cars, endurance racing, and taking the engineering path less traveled. Last weekend, Mazda Motorsports began a new era of professional sports car racing when its latest SKYACTIV-powered Mazda Prototype took the green flag at the first ever TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race.

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The season opening Rolex 24 at Daytona is one that Mazda knows well, having scored 23 class wins in the endurance classic since 1975. The challenges for 2014 were bigger than in any past season as Mazda was competing for the overall win against some of the world’s best racers, teams and manufacturers.

“Mazda is thrilled to once again be coming to a new series in our own unique manner. Our SKYACTIV Technology is a perfect match for racing as the mindset is the same – every single component and system can be optimized for increased performance and efficiency for both the street and the track. By using a production Mazda SKYACTIV-D Clean Diesel engine we are charting our own course. The work is compounded by the fact that our team is having to invent new ways of doing things as there are no racing components on the shelf that fit our engine. All of this just means the rewards will be that much sweeter for all of us and the many partners who have helped us get here when we achieve success,” noted John Doonan, director of motorsports for Mazda North American Operations.

Mazda Motorsports, working in conjunction with SpeedSource Race Engineering and Multimatic Engineering have built two all-new prototype cars. The engine powering the all-new Mazda Prototype is the latest evolution of the Mazda SKYACTIV-D Clean Diesel that Mazda used to win nine races and the 2013 Grand-Am GX Manufacturers Championship. While the engine itself is almost identical to that used in the Mazda6 last year, everything from the flywheel to the wheels is all new. Managing almost 800 Nm (600 lb-ft) of torque will be the biggest technical challenge for the team. Over the course of the 2013 season, the team broke more than a dozen racing driveline components, but no stock Mazda parts!

SpeedSource Race Engineering, from Coral Springs, Florida, remains the lead race team within Mazda Motorsports. Led by Sylvain Tremblay, the SpeedSource team has an amazing depth of technical talent. The SpeedSource team is working with Mazda engineers from both Mazda North American Operations in Irvine, California, and Mazda Motor Corporation in Hiroshima, Japan.

Tremblay and his team of professional drivers make up the best of the best in the world of sportscars. The assembled talent for the 52nd running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona included Americans Tom Long, Joel Miller and Tristan Nunez, Frenchman Tristan Vautier, and the Mayor of Hinchtown himself, James Hinchcliffe. These amazing individuals were assembled for their experience in the Mazda nameplate, each having success in other Mazda racing machines and series in the past.

With Mazda being the leader in grassroots motorsports and having successful drivers at every rung of the ladder, Mazda has a philosophy of promoting from within. The same four drivers who developed the 2013 Championship winning Mazda6 are now developing the Mazda Prototype.

Owner/driver of the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda Sylvain Tremblay wears multiple hats, and helmets, within the team. He is also hands-on in the design and development of the car, and is a two-time Rolex 24 GT class winner with his SpeedSource RX-8 in 2008 and 2010.

"Our program is comprised of many small steps," stated Tremblay. "Our goals are on a tiered system as well, and we hope to be able to work our way up the ladder of success with this new racecar. In regards to the design and look of the machine, you can't fix ugly!"

Driver Tom Long is a Spec Miata success story, winning races in Mazdas for more than a decade, most recently in both the Grand-Am GX class with SpeedSource and in the Continental Tire Challenge in his Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5. Tom understands the business of the sport having graduated from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in 2004 with a degree in business marketing.

Driver Joel Miller was on a path to the Indy 500 when he switched to sports cars. As a former Skip Barber National Champion, Joel was one of the first racers to earn a Mazda scholarship. After several years in Star Mazda and Indy Lights, Joel made the move to sports cars and was the 2013 Grand-Am Rookie of the Year scoring five wins in the SpeedSource #00 Mazda6. A recent graduate of UC Riverside in Mechanical Engineering, Joel is also an engineer at SpeedSource during the week.

As one of the youngest drivers in the paddock, Tristan Nunez is the “kid” on the team, and continues to earn “youngest ever” mentions, including youngest ever professional sports car champion when he won the 2012 Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship Powered by Mazda at age 17. Tristan co-drove to four wins in the SpeedSource #00 Mazda6 in 2013. Away from the track Tristan is one of the leading racing voices raising awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.

The team was also able to add Indycar racers James Hinchcliffe and Tristan Vautier for the Rolex 24. Both are Mazda Motorsports alums. Hinchcliffe raced a Mazda-powered Atlantic car in 2006 and 2007. Vautier was the 2011 Star Mazda Champion on his way up to Indycars.

The #70 Mazda SKYACTIV Prototype will be driven by Sylvain Tremblay, Tom Long and James Hinchecliffe while the #07 will be shared by Joel Miller, Tristan Nunez, and Tristan Vautier.

The team demonstrated an awesome chemistry in the run-up to the race this past weekend. Everyone was in high spirits as they rode in two golf carts to an early morning autograph session the morning on Saturday, Jan. 25, with drivers Tristan Nunez and Tristan Vautier serenading the assembled crowd with a rowsing rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.

As part of its challenger frame of mind, Mazda is the only car company racing in the TUDOR Championship with a diesel engine. The SKYACTIV-D Clean Diesel race engine is a true production-based engine and a carry-over from the development work done with the championship winning Mazda6 GX-class racing cars. The engine is 51 percent stock by parts count, and 63 percent stock by weight. Mazda chose this path as it is the most honest way to demonstrate the performance, quality, durability and reliability of Mazda powerplants.

It's 450 horsepower engine puts out 550 foot pounds of torque, and has a top speed of 195 miles per hour. The car tops the scales at just under a ton, and carries just 18.5 gallons of fuel.

The two Mazda SKYACTIV Prototypes started the 2014 running of the endurance classic at 2:10 pm local time on Saturday afternoon. Collectively, over the course of the race, they covered 2,826 miles. The No. 07 car came within an hour of the finish before an oil-pump belt failure caused a loss of oil pressure. The No. 70 car covered over 1,300 miles before it was retired due to overheating caused by a clogged radiator. Even in retirement, the Mazda Prototypes proved their value by demonstrating both the fuel efficiency and durability of their smart diesel engines on the race track, as both failures were related to racing accessories, not the core engine.

The car is within 10 percent of the leaders on pace and has a 35-percent advantage in range due to the efficiency of the SKYACTIV-D engine. The car also has a high “clean factor,” using a renewable synthetic diesel fuel supplied by Dynamic Fuels.

“Racing is difficult, and few races match the grueling pace of the Rolex 24,” said John Doonan, Director, Mazda Motorsports. “Given the limited time we’ve had to develop the new Mazda SKYACTIV-D Clean Diesel prototype, we are very satisfied with the progress our team has achieved. That said, this is a multi-year development program and we won’t be happy until we start winning.” Doonan added, “The job of motorsports is to push the limits of technology. Every mile completed makes us stronger and smarter. Between our two cars, we completed the equivalent of over a dozen sprint races in the past 24 hours.”

The No. 07 started 17th in class, and finished 13th in class. It suffered cracks in the intercooler resulting in several lengthy pit stops, but a thrown oil pump belt resulted in loss of oil pressure, causing the car to retire after completing 445 laps for a total of 1,584 miles.

The No. 70 started 16th in class, and finished 14th in class. It ended the day due to overheating, resulting from a clogged radiator due to track debris. The car completed 369 laps for a total of 1,314 miles.

Next up for the SpeedSource Mazda is the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 12 – 15 from Sebring International Raceway, race two of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Mazda Motorsports engineers will address the radiator and belt issues that sidelined their cars this weekend, and be ready for even more speed by the next event.

Stay tuned to this column for continuing coverage surrounding the Rolex 24 at Daytona weekend, as well as interviews and behind-the-scenes access to some of the sports greatest teams, while in March, this examiner travels to the 12 hours for even more endurance racing action!

Be sure to subscribe to the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner, and keep track of your favorite racers. If you're a motorsports fan, and know of an event, team, or person you'd like to see profiled, please let me know. Also, be sure to follow me on twitter, and read my articles about local getaways, HOAs,elections, and restaurants.

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