The ensuing howling from the pits draws in a crowd like moths to a flame
Dazed, I amble off toward the completely unguarded paddock and meander between unattended pit garages before an unexpected sight arrests me. You can count on one hand the number of times in a year Mazda’s priceless 787B and 767 racecars see the light of day, yet here before me were both, resplendent in unmistakable Renown green and orange livery. Minutes later my transfixed stare at racing royalty is broken as the engineers arrive to start warming the R26B quadrotor engines that produce up to 670kw despite only displacing 2.6 litres with no turbos.
The ensuing howling from the pits draws in a crowd like moths to a flame and then the pair roll out into the evening light, unleashing a sound that is simply indescribable as they conclude the day’s proceedings.
The light is starting to fade now and I run down a flight of stairs to corner 29-time Le Mans driver Yojiro Terada straight out of the 787B’s cockpit. I’m irritated at how much cooler than me he appears to be, despite just completing 10 laps of Fuji in anger.
When asked what the most challenging part of piloting the car is, Terada tells me, “It’s easy; you can do it,” although I’m still waiting for an official invitation at the time of writing.
Mt Fuji, cloaked in thick cloud all day, emerges to cast an intimidating shape over the track as it fills with hundreds of cars. The attendees are forming a parting convoy to bid farewell and draw the 40th anniversary celebrations to a close.
Expensive headlight globes sparkle into life, drivers salute me with peace signs as they crawl through, and the incredible variety of cars prepares to dissipate in an orchestra of wonderful exhaust notes.
As the procession departs, the circuit falls eerily silent and I’m slumped back in the RF gathering my thoughts from the day, ears ringing like I’ve just emerged from an all-night club lock-in.
My induction into the rotary institute has been an incredibly immersive experience, but the day was tinged with sadness, like oberving the last ageing individuals of an endangered species about to die.
But my sorrow is unfounded. Just days later, Mazda confirms the rotary engine will once again return to its ranks. Rather than a demonic quad-rotor fire-spitting power hero that invokes the 787B or tuned RX-7S, the next-gen rotary will be coupled to an electric motor and be “exceptionally quiet,” says its maker.
It’s not the enfant terrible some were hoping for, including me, but a returning rotary engine rekindles a bloodline of performance potential for the brand. Yes, the revenant rotary will be quiet and fuel efficient, but details are academic at this stage. What really matters now is that Mazda’s brilliant engine will not drift into obscurity, fading from memory with each year that passes, and immortalised only by a diminishing group of cars and their diehard owners.
The rotary engine will return.