The en­su­ing howl­ing from the pits draws in a crowd like moths to a flame

Wheels (Australia) - - Features -

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.

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