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Mazda Go Green Racing

‘Environmental responsibility’ is a much-bandied phrase these days and now it’s coming to Thai motorsport – in fact it’s actually here already. Thailand’s locally built breed of efficient ‘Eco Cars’ have recently found a new niche in racing by providing a low cost and evenly matched platform for beginner drivers.
 
But the concept of ‘green racing’ doesn’t stop there and it’s taking the next step upwards. That’s because at the opening round of Thailand Super Series last month the new-generation Mazda2 made its track debut in the highly popular – and hotly competitive – ‘Super Production’ championship.
 
That’s the routine bit though as it’s a B-segment car entering the biggest series in Thailand reserved for B-segment cars. The difference, however, is that the new Mazda 2 is diesel powered.
 
In fact there hasn’t been a diesel engine car in the Super Production category before so there simply aren’t any rules to fit. So to accommodate the new car the organisers’ have handed the Mazda2 a special dispensation – it can run in the races, but it can’t score championship points this season. They plan run the rule over it and by next year, when yet more diesels are expected, it will have its place in Thai racing.
 
The ambitious project is the work of Innovation Motorsport, the team that runs the factory-supported Mazda race programme here. Based just up the road from Pattaya this outfit first brought the concept of ‘smoke free’ emissions to the pickup truck racing category a few years ago. Traditionalists laughed and said it wouldn’t work, Innovation Motorsport (an appropriate name) responded by throttling the life out of Super Pickup, the country’s top category reserved for racing trucks. This year the BT-50s have finally retired after winning both the teams’ and drivers’ championships for three years on the trot.
 
Last year Innovation Motorsport ran the outgoing gasoline Mazda2 but with the Japanese brand’s switch to a new shape model with diesel power so the race team was forced to debut a new car. And with that new efficient diesel engine and Skyactiv technology comes a pure focus on ‘green racing’.
 
“The challenge is to build and develop an environmentally friendly racecar but still with the capability to be competitive with the contemporary generation racing machines,” explains Michael Freeman, Team Owner and Test Driver.
 
“Our starting point is the new Mazda 2 SkyActiv clean diesel and due the high sales of the vehicle in Thailand the only unit available to convert to racing was a unit that is to full Japanese specification, with Euro VI emission level,” he says.
 
That in effect ties one hand behind their backs, well both hands really. “This specification includes a ‘Diesel Particulate Filter’, which is not a requirement in Thailand and after four days of practice and racing the exhaust pipe was still 100% clean,” he says. “We even retained the Mazda i-ELOOP brake energy regeneration system and Mazda i-stop [idle stop] for the race.”
 
That mean on the grid as the roar of racing engines reached a crescendo the bright red Mazda was in full ‘eco mode’. “At the start of the race while all the other cars were revving away after the 30 second sign we sat silently saving fuel with i-stop,” he says with a laugh. It’s a quick start system too, as Mazda's i-stop needs just one engine cycle to fire due to its precise control of the piston positions. As a result, i-stop achieves the world's fastest diesel engine restart. But it certainly wasn’t designed with the racetrack in mind.
 
Last year the team ran gasoline-powered Mazda2 racecars and they also brought one to this race, mainly to give their new signing, Tachapan Vijittranon, some competitive seat time. That also provided some interesting back-to-back comparisons. “Our previous generation gasoline powered Mazda2 finished on the podium in both races but in achieving the result used double the fuel and added 100% more emissions,” notes the Australian.
 
It was a race against time to get the new car built and onto the track and now with the first race out of the way and the targets – reaching the checkered flag – comfortably achieved, there is now a two month window before the team returns to the track and the development curve will go up the gears.
“Next steps are to remove the automatic transmission and fit an even more fuel efficient manual transmission to bring us a step closer to running a low emission fuel efficient competitive race car,” adds Michael.