Rotaries are returning to Le Mans, at least in the rule books. According to the most recent technical regulations for the Le Mans Hypercar category approved and released by the FIA World Motor Sport Council, rotary engines may power the machines in the new top class of endurance racing for the 2020-21 season. The last time a rotary-powered car raced at 24 Hours of Le Mans was 1991, when the Mazda 787B took overall win. After which rotaries were banned. Now nearly 30 years hence, the thrilling sound of the rotary engine may grace the famed race, as well as the rest of World Endurance Championship, yet again.
Let’s jump to the obvious conclusion here: Mazda is probably planning for a return to Le Mans with rotary power. Perhaps there is a possibility that Audi is behind this; the company with NSU roots did reveal back in 2011 an electric concept car with a rotary engine range extender. However, Mazda is the only company capable of and experienced at developing racing rotaries at this level.
Our insider sources have indicated in the past that the Hiroshima-based company sees returning to Le Mans as a goal. In fact, Mazda has been making its way back towards Le Mans since 2013 with prototype racing, culminating in the current RT24-P, “the Road To 24 – Prototype.” On top of that, Mazda’s past CEO and now Chairman of the Board also said that they want to make the RX-Vision, while the upcoming MX-30 will have a version possessing a rotary engine range extender.
Thus, our reading of the tea leaves suggests that there exists a plan in which Mazda returns to Le Mans with a rotary-powered car, perhaps coupled with the introduction of a rotary sports car, both to be unveiled for the company’s 100th anniversary next year.
Let’s now reel back for some reality checks. If such a plan is real, it still does not mean that it will come to fruition. These are trying times for the automotive industry, with the most important markets showing worrying signs, while the industry itself is in a period of mass transition to electric vehicles and autonomous driving. But perhaps there is no better time to make a heroic leap. And hence, we are keeping our fingers crossed for some wickedly awesome things to come from Mazda.
Images courtesy of Mazda.