Mazda Furai Concept

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Mazda Furai Concept

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Remember Mazda's overall win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991? The rotor-heads at Mazda sure do, and they created the Furai as a reminder of that accomplishment. Half concept car dreamery, half prototype racer, the Furai is less a car than a statement of Mazda's intention to re-enter the fabled endurance race at some undisclosed time, presumably in the near future.

Translating literally to "sound of wind," which we're certain is not intended to recall dinner with the Klumps, the Furai (say foo-RYE) is capable of making noise. The basis of the Furai is a 2005 Courage C65 chassis — itself formerly an LMP2-class entry in the American Le Mans Series — that Mazda reskinned in the style of its Nagare concept car. It's the fifth such design exercise as Mazda works to develop a new design language for the future, preceded by the Nagare, Ryuga, Hakaze and Taiki concepts. The company remains mum on when these design cues will finally take root in a production car.

The Furai's aggressive lines are the product of Mazda's studio in Southern California led by North American design boss Franz Von Holzhausen. Further developed by the prodigious brainpower of the racecar wizards at Swift Engineering, the Furai has been shaped with an eye toward function as well as form. Swift worked concurrently with Mazda's design team and performed computational fluid dynamics to ensure the concept wouldn't take flight and made sure the hot-running rotary had proper cooling.

Considering the Furai has never seen a wind tunnel, its ability to generate about 80 percent of the downforce of the original race-spec bodywork is respectable indeed. In fact, Mike Page of Swift Engineering is confident that the Furai could be made fully competitive without wholesale changes: "The overall form is solid. As it sits, it's a happy medium between form and function."

Most concept cars don't run. Heck, most of them don't even have engines. By contrast, the Furai is a runner, a point that Mazda was keen to emphasize by wedging us into the cockpit for a couple of hot laps around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca piloted by ALMS ace Jamie Bach. There's barely space for a second person in the tight cabin of the former racecar, which sports a passenger seat only because class rules demand it.

Powered by a mid-mounted, three-rotor Mazda 20B rotary engine fueled by E100 ethanol, the Furai generates around 450 horsepower. As expected, it's rapid. Even without its aerodynamic front splitter (a measure to prevent damage to this one-off showcar), the cornering grip is substantial, while even earplugs can't control the crescendo of sound from the rotary engine. Bach kept things tidy and clean in the corners, as the Furai we're sharing is the same one that will occupy the stage at the Detroit auto show.

In addition to advice about the bodywork, Swift also contributed an innovative intake configuration. Unlike a traditional F1-style snorkel, the Furai breathes through a shallow, leaflike cup known informally as an "air fang." It looks something like the bow of a boat, rising proud of the roof in order to breathe relatively clean, turbulence-free air that has not been de-energized by the boundary layer. As the air rushes past, twin vortices on either side of the device are generated, which then dump fresh air directly down the intake without incurring the efficiency losses of a traditional snorkel. It's an elegant solution in keeping with the Furai's design theme.

The Furai sounds sensational at full cry. As we exited Turn 11 onto the main straight with the sound of the rotary exhaust reverberating off the concrete pit wall, the effect was not of a lone car, but instead an entire field of endurance racers. With the Furai, Mazda is suggesting that this aural deception will soon become a reality as it moves to join Acura and Porsche in an assault on the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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