Mazda, Ford Racing Take Production Engines to the Track

Manufacturers have long regarded the racetrack as a testing ground. There’s a good reason for it, too — what better way to test performance technology than to see what it’s made of at the highest levels of speed, pressure, and heat, all against stiff competition? Proven technology then trickles down the ladder from race cars to production cars, and speed junkies like us get to feel like we’re driving a race car between stop lights and past baby-on-board Subarus.

Enter Mazda Motorsport and Chip Ganassi Racing, two manufacturer-affiliated race teams making waves in the United Sports Car Championship series by flipping this formula on its head. Mazda’s Skyactiv-D #70 prototype car and the Ford Riley Daytona prototype both use existing production engines, helping the brands demonstrate the viability and capability of their current technologies, all while gathering data to make future iterations more durable, reliable, and drivable. We visited both racing teams as they prepared for this weekend’s 2014 Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle.

Ford Racing: Riley Technologies Prototype and the EcoBoost V-6

If you drive a Ford Flex, give yourself a pat on the back: the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 in your boxy crossover is the same engine used in Ford Racing’s Riley Technologies prototype racer. Although the unit is optimized for racing under the auspices of Roush Yates Racing Engines, Ford’s long-time engine tuner, it still shares 70 percent of its parts with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 in models like the Ford Flex, F-150, Taurus SHO, and Lincoln MKS and MKT. While the stock engine makes 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, the racing engine boasts 600 hp and 540 lb-ft of torque. Roush Yates also supports the Michael Shank Racing Team, which uses the same Ford turbo V-6 in its cars.

Although the racing engine receives upgraded turbos, larger fuel capacity, and a racing-spec engine oil system, it shares the same aluminum block and heads, direct-injection system, gaskets, electronic throttle body, and valve springs with the production version. “The basics are all production pieces,” team manager Mike O’Gara told Automobile. “More advanced pieces might not reach production until 2016 or 2017.”

O’Gara gave us an in-depth look at the striking Riley Daytona prototype at the paddock on Belle Isle, lauding the 3.5-liter turbo V-6’s prowess in a racing setting. Just like the street version, Ford Racing’s EcoBoost V-6 presents some significant advantages over the competition’s naturally aspirated V-8 engines. While the weight savings compared to the V-8s is negligible, considering the mass added by the twin turbochargers and intercoolers, the gains in fuel efficiency and low-speed acceleration are stark.

At first, drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas were a bit thrown by the turbo engines, which continue to gain steam after lift-off while the turbo remains spooled up. Slower, more technical tracks like that of the Detroit Grand Prix are ideal for the EcoBoost V-6, because it can stay in the sweet spot of its torque band and accelerate up to speed more quickly thanks to the added pressure from boost. Faster tracks with more sweeping curves that require maintaining speed over longer stretches, such as Laguna Seca, present more of a challenge in keeping up with naturally aspirated cars. “Every race we learn more, and continue to get better and better,” said O’Gara. “The car’s drivability is always improving, and the drivers are liking it.”

Ganassi Racing can also benefit from the collaboration between Roush Yates Racing Engines and Ford, who work closely together developing the best possible engine with both production and racing engineers on hand at the Ford Dynamometer Lab in Dearborn. The physical Daytona prototype displays some of Ford’s visual production cues, such as the Fusion-style front grille and headlights, which represent the strong connection between mainstream and racing technologies. “Ford is well ahead of the game in getting production technology involved in racing,” said O’Gara. “Race Sunday, sell Monday—that’s Ford.”

Mazda Motorsport: Prototype #70 and the 2.2-liter Skyactiv-D Four-Cylinder

While Ford’s EcoBoost V-6 is alive and well in the U.S. market, Mazda’s 2.2-liter diesel Skyactiv engine has experienced multiple delays for its North American introduction. Although it is already on sale in Europe, Mazda is committed to making sure that the Skyactiv-D engine is properly tuned and refined before it goes on sale to American consumers, who expect Mazdas to perform with a “unique zoom-zoom.”

Mazda has made a name for itself by doing things differently, and its role in the USSC series is no different—who else in LMP2 racing is running a torque-heavy twin-turbocharged four-cylinder? Working with motorsports partner SpeedSource, Mazda is maintaining its tradition of individuality following the success of the GX-class Mazda 6 diesel racecar last season.

The Mazda prototype #70 race car uses 51 percent of the same OEM components used in the stock Mazda6 Skyactiv-D model. Following extensive analysis of the production car’s components, racing engineers from SpeedSource determined that a large quantity of the parts were suitable for racing applications. Mazda is running the #70 prototype with a production engine block and heads, a reinforced stock crankshaft mildly modified for racing, and a production water pump made slightly thicker. Even though many parts are similar, the performance is not: the race engine makes 450 hp and 580 lb-ft of torque compared to the Mazda 6 sedan's 170 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque.

Cooling is the biggest challenge for the high-torque diesel, which runs extremely hot. Advanced aerodynamic testing from Multimatic and Lola helped the team shape the body to feed the intakes with as much fresh air as possible, but it’s just as important to extract the engine’s hot air to prevent overheating. Another issue is the thick and viscous synthetic diesel, called Dynamic Fuel. Created from food byproducts provided from Tyson, the clean-burning fuel requires that the fuel pump be extra strong—in this fact, the pump alone can sap as much as 50 hp just to supply the engine with diesel.

According to SpeedSource team owner and driver Sylvain Tremblay, Mazda’s performance on the racetrack is a huge part of Mazda’s engineering and research efforts to bring the Mazda6 diesel to the U.S. “We put together a full report after every race for the people in [Mazda headquarters in] Hiroshima,” said Tremblay in the paddock at Belle Isle. The most crucial areas of focus continue to be thermal management and cooling; reduced noise, vibration, and harshness; and long-term durability of the driveline components under high stress.

A Mazda representative tells us that the Skyactiv-D prototype is the second stage in a collaborative production and motorsports initiative that began with the Mazda6 diesel GX-class racer. Pending all of the fine-tuning for the U.S. production car, we should see the Mazda6 diesel hit showrooms in 2015 as a 2016 model. For Mazda, the use of alternative power at such a high level places it in a class currently occupied only by Audi and Porsche—not too shabby company for a small Japanese brand with no top-dollar offerings.

Adding Cachet, Expanding the Lab

Both Ford and Mazda stand to gain in a big way as a result of their racing investment in production technology, in both tangible and intangible fashion. In today’s consumer marketplace, branding is an essential component to introducing new technologies, and bringing the EcoBoost and Skyactiv brands more high-level racing prestige has the potential to add a lot of value to their respective nameplates. On a more nuts and bolts level, the amount of research and data collected in the real world is far beyond anything that would be of use from virtual or dyno testing.

As fans of motorsports and the automotive world, we’re thrilled to see the destinies of racing and street cars so closely intertwined. The next time we get our speed fix out on the street, we’ll know there’s even more fun and performance coming down the ladder.

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