We all know that auto racing is a thirsty sport, but the organizing group behind the 24 Hours of Le Mans--and a very famous racecar driver--will attempt to decrease that thirst over the next two years.
Even before Audi took first and second place at this past weekend's 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (Le Mans' organizing body) and the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile released new regulations designed to reduce the amount of fuel used by LMP1 racers during the iconic race.
In years past the ACO pushed racers to increase their fuel economy by regulating certain factors, like the displacement of an engine or the number of cylinders it may use. At other times it regulated the size of the fuel tanks that racers can carry on-board.
For 2014, the fuel tank size regulations are still in effect--gas-powered cars go from 75-liter tanks to 64.4-liter tanks and diesel-powered cars go from 60-liter fuel cells to 53.3-liter ones--but the ACO removed other regulations. Private racing teams can only campaign engines up to 5.5 liters in the LMP1 category, but factory teams can use any number of cylinders, any sort of displacement, or any sort of forced induction pressure. The ACO also removed any restrictions on fuel injection pressure or air intakes.
If this sounds like a step backward, there is a (potentially giant) catch: the ACO will now regulate actual fuel economy. The body also removed most regulations on the use of hybrid systems--teams can use up to two systems at a combined power of up to 8 megajoules, four times more than before--and will regulate fuel economy depending on the combined output of the hybrid systems. A manufacturer’s hybrid racer with a 2 MJ hybrid system is limited to 4.8 liters of gas or 3.93 liters of diesel per lap (a fuel economy rating of 6.68 mpg and 8.16 mpg, respectively), while an 8 MJ hybrid is limited to 4.42 liters of gas or 3.56 liters of diesel per lap (7.25 mpg and 9.0 mpg, respectively). Keep in mind that the current DeltaWing racecar (the equivalent of an LMP2 car), likely the thriftiest of the non-hybrid cars fielded this past weekend, burns up to 4.5 liters of gasoline every lap without any hybrid powertrain.
Across the paddock, however, Mazda had another trick up its (green) sleeve: the automaker will make a (somewhat muted) return to Le Mans next year when it will begin to sell race-ready engines to private Le Mans and ALMS racing teams. Its first taker: TV star Patrick Dempsey and his Dempsey Racing team.
Dempsey Racing has already campaigned and earned respect in both the Grand Am and American Le Mans Series, and Dempsey has already driven during the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GT category. For next year the team will combine an existing Lola-built LMP2 chassis (Dempsey was reportedly testing it last weekend) with the new Mazda engine, which is currently on the dyno and will be race-ready late this year.
That engine should be familiar to European Mazda owners: it's the 2.2-liter SkyActiv-D diesel engine from the CX-5 crossover. The racing engine will keep the stock block but will upgrade many, many other things, including fitting a dual-stage turbocharger. The resulting car should be nothing if not quick, and private racing firms would do well to at least give the oil-burner a look.
Sources: Mazda, ACO