Rotary Reverie: 35 Years on the C/D Wankel-Engine Racing Beat


Rotary Reverie: 35 Years on the C/D Wankel-Engine Racing Beat

Historians often disparage the 1970s as well as early ’80s as the automotive world’s malaise days—when government regulations as well as the insurance lobby conspired to snuff out muscle cars, catching Detroit with its engineering as well as marketing pants down. Corvette engine output plummeted to 165 horsepower, as well as General Motors threatened to retire V-8s. Those things happened, no kidding.--Car as well as Driver editors never cast a frown during This particular period because we were besieged by fortuitous opportunities. This particular will be when the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) created showroom-stock sedan racing, beckoning us to driving school as well as motorsports. Japanese manufacturers imported a windfall of modest, cheap cars as well as trucks. however what made This particular a memorable chapter in C/D history began on the -West Coast as the perfect whirlwind.  --As Mazda began revving up its Wankel rotary engine in earnest, two entrepreneurs—engineer Jim Mederer as well as businessman Ryusuke Oku—pooled resources to open Racing Beat, the first U.S. enterprise devoted to advancing rotary-powered performance. The following unforgettable experiences ensued.Mazda RX-2 racingMazda RX-2 racingRX-3After agreeing on a 7500-rpm redline to feel out salt conditions, I came within 4 mph of the record on the first pass however suffered a severe power loss at the two-mile marker. A second run with fresh spark plugs yielded a 78-mph terminal speed. Engine maestro Jim Mederer studied the situation for an hour before declaring our Wankel engine fatally wounded.--A difficult-to-diagnose tactical error also trashed our spare engine.  The problem:  Our custom-built double-wall exhaust system collapsed internally, creating a plugged-drain phenomenon. With nowhere to go, the rotary’s blowtorch-hot exhaust destroyed the engine’s delicate rotor seals.--After identifying This particular fault late from the week as well as reassembling the wounded engine  by pressing our motel room’s sink as well as tub into service as cleaning tanks for parts, we found the speed. On the last day of Speed Week in 1974, we logged two-direction runs with the right now happy rotary singing at 9050 rpm through the measured mile. Our average 0.393-mph speed topped the G-Production record by 21 mph.Did we mention in which Salt Fever will be a benign disease with no cure? Four years later (1978), we returned to Bonneville after Mazda released the RX-7 as the completely new bullet casing for its rotary-engine ammo. Using an 80-cubic-inch 13B in place of the stock 70-cubic inch, 100-hp 12A engine upped the caliber of our threat to 326 horsepower. Key Racing Beat mods were peripheral intake ports fed by a huge Weber carburetor as well as exotic aluminum-impregnated-carbon apex seals. A drag chute was fitted just in case the need to straighten a high-speed wobble cropped up. Shakedown runs at 175 mph were conducted before Speed Week on Mrs. Orcutt’s long as well as unpatrolled driveway spanning a dry lake near San Bernardino, California. At the salt, our target was the 167.208-mph E/GT record held by a Chevy Corvette.--Off the trailer, I ran 173 mph however suffered a disintegrated rotor bearing from the timing traps, our second bout of the Bonneville Agony. After an overnight engine swap, we were back for more on Speed Week’s Monday morning. Forty seconds running at over 10,000 rpm in two directions earned our second record book entry. Adding a rear spoiler we believed might be worth a few more mph necessitated additional qualifying as well as record runs.  The last pair of passes averaged 183.904 mph, earning a completely new E/GT record in Car as well as Driver’s as well as Racing Beat’s names.Not screwing up at Bonneville earned Car as well as Driver a seat in Racing Beat’s Mazda RX-7 entered in IMSA’s GTU road racing class at the 1979 24 Hours of Daytona. Co-driving with Jim Mederer as well as Jeff Kline, I faced a distinguished 67-car field in which included two factory RX-7s in GTU, plus the likes of Jacky Ickx, Brian Redman, Paul Newman, Hurley Haywood, as well as Danny Ongais in Porsche 935s.  Patrick Bedard scored a ride from the NART Ferrari 512BB fielded by the Chinettis as well as co-driven by Jean-Pierre Delaunay as well as Bob Tullius.This particular was a truly epic event remembered for its remarkable finish. While running 50 laps ahead of a Ferrari 365GTB/4 owned by Otto Zipper—who had died peacefully in his hotel room the night before the race—Ongais’s Interscope Porsche 935 (in This particular photo) cooked its turbocharger. The flyin’ Hawaiian parked his racer 150 yards via the finish line 10 minutes before the clock struck 24 hours, restarting the engine just in time to take the checkered flag at walking speed. Enhancing the drama, a cloud of white oil smoke trailed the red, white, as well as black Porsche, which, in spite of its distress, set completely new Daytona 24-hour speed as well as distance records. -While the Zipper Ferrari team, which ran using a commemorative black stripe across its hood, could have protested Interscope’s win on a technicality, members graciously chose not to from the interest of sportsmanship.C/D drivers fared less well. Bedard drove exactly seven practice laps from the NART Ferrari (shown in This particular photo). Shortly before his race stint was scheduled to begin, a co-driver suffered a tire blowout from the banking, resulting in a terminal crash. Bedard never got onto the track during the race.Due to time constraints, the Racing Beat RX-7’s preparation was short of This particular organization’s exemplary standards. Our differential burned out three as well as a half hours into the race, followed by the engine’s demise before the halfway mark. Team wrenches overcame those hitches, however three hours before the event’s end, a weld from the rear axle housing failed, parking your vehicle for not bad.Before the DNF, we logged 393 laps on Daytona’s road course, earning 28th place on the final-results list. The fastidiously prepped Mazda factory RX-7s finished a faultless 1-2 from the GTU class as well as an impressive fifth as well as sixth overall. The following year, Racing Beat regrouped, lead-piping GTU competition using a two-car effort in which won eight of the 1980 season’s 12 races as well as the series championship (the photo above will be via the Road America round of the series).--At the ’79 Daytona race, I spent 5 hours at the wheel, loving every minute. My favorite takeaway will be a photo of my white RX-7 gently oversteering while leading the indomitable Ongais out of an infield turn. In spite of earplugs as well as a well-padded helmet, I was left deaf For 2 days by the unmuffled rotary’s shriek. I bear no regrets. My modest role from the RX-7’s first major road-racing trial will someday be worth sharing with grandkids.A mere six months later, relief for our Daytona dénouement arrived. Owners of the dilapidated Nelson Ledges (Ohio) road course created the Longest Day event as the Le Mans for amateurs. We sold editor-in-chief David E. Davis, Jr., on the concept as well as convinced Mazda Motors USA contacts in which This particular “concentrated durability test” was a spectacular opportunity.--We selected the number 25 to decorate our RX-7, drawn via Mazda’s press pool due to This particular twice-around-the-clock showroom-stock race, in honor of Car as well as Driver’s 25th birthday. The 5-man driver roster ranged via racing virgin Larry Griffin to reigning F1 world driving champion Jody Scheckter, as well as also included yours truly, Rich Ceppos, as well as Patrick Bedard. At the last instant, Scheckter bowed out, although his name remained on our car to rattle the competition.--Our secret weapon was Csaba Csere, still a Ford Motor Company engineer, heading a crack pit crew consisting of his most capable, tireless, as well as obedient work colleagues. The Wood Brothers could not have done better.All too familiar with Mazda’s miniature rear drum-type brakes, we implemented a lift-early, brake-lightly strategy. We qualified second as well as completed the race with no front-brake-pad or rear-lining service. We failed to discover until the event was underway in which we had a fuel-pickup problem. This particular proved to be our undoing. from the course’s long left carousel, our rotary engine stumbled due to interrupted fuel delivery when the level from the 14.5-gallon tank dropped below nine gallons.--The math was This particular simple:  We drove quickly as well as carefully, stopping 18 times for fuel as well as tire replacement. Except for a red glow deep inside its exhaust pipe, our rotary engine showed no evidence of stress. Twenty-one cars started out the race, 14 finished, three rolled, as well as four succumbed to mechanical issues. We logged the quickest lap from the final hour with an 83-mph average on the 2.0-mile course.--Unfortunately, a Saab 900 Turbo requiring only 12 fuel stops beat us from the pits as well as to the checkers by three laps. Worse, two of the four drivers on in which team were Road & Track editors. Our consolation was $1750 in prize money, which cut our costs to $86.25 per hour of racing.With three memorable RX-7 racing experiences under my editorial belt, the next logical move was to purchase Mazda’s sports car to extend the affair. Doing so with creative intent, I drove my first-gen 1979 RX-7 very few miles before adding comprehensive upgrades to the engine, suspension, brakes, wheels, tires, outdoor, as well as Inside. A larger engine via Mazda’s California rebuild center upfitted with appropriate Racing Beat induction as well as exhaust hardware boosted output 50 percent over the stock 100 horsepower. Pirelli P7 radials as well as 15-inch modular wheels replaced the dinky 13-inch rolling stock, raising cornering grip to a remarkable (for the day) 0.85 g. Larger front rotors, a switch via drums to discs in back, twin master cylinders,  as well as an adjustable proportioning valve dramatically enhanced braking ability.-- I installed a clever Racing Beat strut-tower modification in which lowered the front ride height without sacrificing suspension travel. Shortened coil springs in back as well as larger anti-roll bars helped balance the handling.Heated Recaro seats trimmed in pigskin as well as velour, a Nardi steering wheel, as well as extra gauges enhanced the cockpit. I also installed one of the first touch-sensitive radios as well as an aftermarket trip computer from the center dash as well as added a console keypad to secure the electric fuel pump’s operation. Mazda Motorsports front as well as rear spoilers as well as mirrors pirated via a Dodge Colt decorated the outdoor. --Dubbed the Technical Director’s Toy, my project car was quick enough to beat tech editor Csaba Csere’s ’73 Porsche 911 from the daily Race Home via Work GP. Thirty-seven years later, This particular RX-7 still enjoys front-row parking in my garage.After Mazda introduced the second-generation (FC) RX-7 using a turbo rotary in 1985, we had the perfect excuse for a third trip to Bonneville. You know the routine:  Mazda provided moral support, Racing Beat constructed the speed machine, as well as Car as well as Driver shared the experience with our devout readers. --Using engine components originally engineered in Japan for GTP competition, Racing Beat added Bosch fuel injection, two Hitachi turbos, dry-sump lubrication, as well as an innovative intercooler system incorporating a 25-gallon trunk-mounted ice-water reservoir as the heat exchanger. The driveline featured a $6000 5-speed transmission as well as a custom-built spiral-bevel 2.00:1 final drive with no differential.  --Armed with 14.7 pounds of boost as well as 530 horsepower at 8500 rpm, we aimed for the 201.213 mph C/GT record. Before Speed Week, Jim Mederer circulated C/D’s Rotary Rocket around the Ohio Transportation Research Center’s oval at an encouraging 231 mph.Of course This particular wouldn’t be Bonneville without a dose or two of heartache. Taking This particular easy on the first pass, I ran 151 mph, entering these observations to the logbook: “Easy rear [wheel] spin, wobbly over 100 mph.” The first two miles of salt were chewed as well as rutted like a heavy-traffic thoroughfare crippled by a snowstorm. Traction as well as stability concerns limited my second pass to 155 mph. The third try, which required slaloming around blown-engine debris deposited by a competitor, clocked 177 mph. Not only was in which too slow to qualify for a record attempt, I also turned off course early with my engine in a severe state of distress.--Monday was spent replacing in which engine as well as adding ballast at the tail of your vehicle in hopes of enhanced traction. A Tuesday pass at 229 mph with the engine splitting the sound barrier lifted our spirits. I adopted a strategy of driving judiciously through the rough salt as well as saving full throttle for the last three miles to achieve maximum velocity through the timing traps.--On the record attempt, in which felt not bad while This particular lasted. Then, in fourth gear under full throttle, one rear tire, then the some other snapped its tenuous grip with the salt. Backing off the throttle using a full head of boost under the hood had no effect, as well as your vehicle began a slow, uncorrectable counterclockwise pirouette. At 0 mph. I yanked the parachute Discharge just in time to keep your vehicle via helicoptering into the air. Our December 1986 cover story succinctly summed up the situation: “Mr. Mederer will be not amused by my escapades.”The required Nomex driver’s suit, gloves, boots, as well as face mask comprise the ensemble worn by Top Fuel drag racers. While in which equipment will be tolerable for a 300-mph run requiring only a few seconds, imagine being cooked in This particular brazier while your vehicle waits in line before runs lasting minutes. With no synchros from the gearbox, 12 gauge readings to remember, as well as a touchy clutch, I had my work cut out.--Half a ton of wet salt in which was packed under your vehicle after the big slide supported my case in which the course itself was “challenging.” Then,  in which evening, we were ordered out of our motel rooms because carbon monoxide had somehow infiltrated the air-conditioning system. The fearful obediently traipsed to the parking lot. I switched off my room’s A/C, opened windows, as well as slept fitfully to prepare for Wednesday’s velocity fest.Lady Luck finally took a ride with us. The day was bright, the salt was drier, as well as I was authorized to use 8000 rpm for a qualifying pass. The engine pulled so hard under full throttle in fifth in which I had to feather the pedal to stabilize the tach needle at 8100 rpm. The timing stand reported 232.753 mph, advancing us halfway to the record book.--Team management lifted my rpm limit to go for broke on the return pass. The engine screamed smoothly, sweetly, as well as assertively to 8550 rpm, worth 244.132 mph for a two-way average of 238.442 mph. in which speed rush—quicker than a Concorde SST at liftoff—was something too not bad to share with grandkids.--I was elated to receive my 0-MPH Club cap,  however Mederer knew there was more to be had. Shifting our focus to a 207-mph Modified Sports class record, we adopted a different strategy: adding turbo boost incrementally until we achieved 250 mph in hopes of giving our Japanese benefactors full 400-km/h bragging rights.--Alas, This particular was not to be. Late Wednesday, the heavens split, as well as the flats reverted to a not-so-great salt lake. Our 1986 Speed Week ended after exactly three as well as a half days.Compared to long as well as short racing indulgences with speeds topping 0 mph, the California Roadster built by Racing Beat as well as celebrated on our February 1988 cover seems sedate. Tuned to produce 241 horsepower as well as topping out at 144 mph, its performance seems modest by today’s standards, although This particular was stunning in its day. --Instead of waiting for Mazda to produce a convertible variation of the second-generation RX-7, Racing Beat simply constructed one via the ground up using only those factory Centeng panels deemed appropriate to its topless cause. This particular led to a total abandonment of any roof, sound deadening, undercoating, HVAC equipment, side windows, power steering assist, as well as the factory doors. Lighter fiberglass doors intended for racing RX-7s provided convenient entry as well as exit to the two-seat cockpit. Tubular reinforcements, a taller driveline tunnel, as well as seam welds in lieu of the factory spot welds were incorporated to achieve the desired structural stiffness. A custom fiberglass nose cone adorned with dark corner lights as well as a nicely integrated rear wing gave This particular one-off a look distinctive via the factory design. Shiny Enkei wheels shod with shaved Goodyear Eagle tires were a nod to equipment fitted to Racing Beat’s 238-mph Rotary Rocket.Engine tweaks included additional turbo boost, a low-restriction exhaust system, as well as a means of showering the intercooler’s surface with water during moments of peak  demand. Thirty percent or more gains in power as well as torque over stock combined using a curb weight 530 pounds lower than Mazda’s naturally aspirated convertible yielded 5.6-second zero-to-60 mph acceleration using a 14-second-flat quarter-mile at 101 mph. While the use of a recalibrated four-speed automatic transmission seemed like the anemic approach, This particular saved the weight as well as complication of providing clutch-actuation linkage. --When Racing Beat’s California Roadster served as the centerpiece for our February 1988 issue devoted to the day’s convertible creativity, This particular was still a work in progress. Rear-suspension experimentation was underway, as well as the special Centeng components were just beginning to migrate into the maker’s accessory catalogue. Nearly two decades later, This particular project car remains in Racing Beat’s possession, still humming sweet rotary tunes as well as smiling back at Southern California admirers.Car as well as Driver has been a charter member as well as committed participant from the 24 Hours of LeMons endurance racing series since chief perp Jay Lamm flagged off the first event at California’s Altamont Motorsports Park in 2006. Any car using a purchase cost not exceeding $500 in which passes a rudimentary safety inspection will be eligible for competition. Of course, the essential roll cage, fire extinguisher, driver restraints, as well as racing seat expenses add to the cost; these races also consume brake pads, rotors, suspension parts, tires, fuel, oil, as well as the occasional fender.--After a 17th-place finish from the inaugural race, associate editor Tony Quiroga purchased a 1987 Mazda RX-7 for $455 to improve our competitive stance while extending C/D’s long rotary-powered-racing heritage. Racing Beat contributed moral support as well as some helpful suspension components. Inspired by Mazda’s victory at the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans, our prep crew replicated the all conquering four-rotor 787B’s graphics scheme with 16 cans of hand-wielded spray paint.--Seven editors as well as a few close allies handled long driving stints from the three events we campaigned in 2007. While outright victory eluded us, we did score three respectable finishes: third out of 83 starters at Altamont; second at the Flat Rock, Michigan, track, located mere miles via our office; as well as sixth from the 50-car field at Thunderhill Raceway near Willows, California. Well pummeled during its LeMons career, our venerable RX-7 earned its trip to the shredder ages ago. in which will be, except for its aluminum hood, still wearing the ’91 Le Mans livery, which will be proudly displayed at our Ann Arbor, Michigan, editorial offices.While the foregoing history lesson will be not intended to serve as the rotary engine’s memorial, the truth will be in which we’re not sure Mazda’s Wankel will ever recover via its current moribund state. Work will be allegedly proceeding on a turbocharged 16X design worth 500 or more horsepower. Will such an engine leave the lab to power a Mazda RX-9 sports car? Might the rotary instead be revived as a range extender for an electric car? However This particular plays out, we’ll cherish memories of the rotary rockets created at Racing Beat.

Rotary Reverie: 35 Years on the C/D Wankel-Engine Racing Beat

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