Meeting Your Rotary Heroes

In my last spotlight from the 2015 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion we took a look at an unusual Ford Mustang campaigned in the 1991 IMSA GTO Championship. While the Ford is a memorable machine, it’s not the most recognizable GTO competitor from the ’91 season. That honor must surely go to Mazda’s entry – the RX-7 GTO and its distinct rotary powerplant.

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Every year Mazda can be counted on for a strong presence at the Rolex Historics, and 2015 was no different. The GTO RX-7 was one of three historic race cars Mazda brought out this year, with the iconic 787 and the RX-792P GTP car rounding out the trio of rotary icons.

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From the early 1980s right through to the ’90s, the RX-7 was a powerful force in IMSA competition, and the ’91 GTO RX-7 represented the pinnacle of the car’s achievements.

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As we saw with the Mustang, the IMSA GTO class allowed for cars that were essentially silhouette racers. That meant the Mazda carried the basic profile of an FC model RX-7, but shared virtually nothing else with the street version.

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Mazda’s race engineers were largely free to employ all the tricks in their books, and the car uses a lightweight space-frame tube chassis designed by veteran Lee Dykstra.

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Powering the IMSA GTO RX-7 is a four-rotor 26B engine sourced directly from Mazda’s Le Mans program of the same era. It’s capable of 640 horsepower at 9,000rpm, although these days the revs are kept slightly lower to put less stress on the mechanicals.

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After being introduced for the 1990 season, the car had reached dominant form by 1991. With Price Cobb and Pete Halsmer piloting the two entries, the RX-7s won five events as Mazda claimed the manufacturers’ title and Halsmer claimed the drivers’ championship.

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The car you see here is Halsmer’s original championship machine, and it’s been meticulously restored and maintained by Mazda USA. The best bit – it still sees the track regularly.

Here’s a video from Laguna Seca a couple of years ago which gives us a great look at what it’s like to lap the circuit from inside the historic machine.

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The RX-7 is special to watch from the outside too. With its radical looks, screaming rotary note and a tendency to spit flames from the side-exit exhaust on downshifts, it leaves a lasting impression on all who see it in action.

Hats off to Mazda for keeping its unique motorsport history alive for generations who may have missed it the first time around.

Mike Garrett
Instagram: japanifornia_media
mike@speedhunters.com

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39 comments

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1
90nissanS13@my350z

Beautiful, even by today's standards.

2

Hey Mike, could you please put up extra photos?

Finding decent photos are hard!
Any more from the pits?
Thanks

3
Chris 'Haffy' Hafner

I want it. I want it. I want it.

4

Oh wow , I didn't know it use 26B , I thought it would be 20B Turbo !
Meanwhile ,
"The uploader has not made this video available in your country." ... well , I guess I live in cave . XD

5

GTO celica vs Mazda

6

TraderPhil1 Speedhunters Superbe bestiole.... Thx mon Filou !!

7

All of this IMSA machines are awesome. Audi 80 IMSA on Project Cars is a beast, and sounds amazing.

8

Definitely!

9

As an rx7 owner (see profile picture) it makes me really happy to see this piece of history featured here. I would love to see you do a piece on the first gen imsa rx7 or the imsa monza. There's either a replica or the real deal of the monza here in Denver. I've seen it run once and it truly is an amazing machine!

10
Gianluca FairladyZ

Everyone should a have a little "brappp brapppp paaap brapp braaappp braapppp" in their hearts... ! Long live rotary :)

11

Why is it, that rotary engines are no longer popular in motorsports?

I mean the characteristics of rotary engines should be perfect for motorsports:

- relatively small engines hence very lightweight
- relatively low torque hence less component wear
- high rpm which I assume has a positive effect on the dosability of the power delivery

All the negative effects such as high oil consumption, engine wear, etc. doesn't count in motorsports.

12

@cyruzz Motorsport is mostly marketing and should be relevant for the motoring industry, which rotary is not.

13

@cyruzz

14

I love how the engine is so small relative to the car's size that it's almost an afterthought, just tucked away in a corner.

15

Did noone notice the white car in the video ahead of him spin out on the last turn? lol

16

Did noone notice the white car in the video ahead of him spin out on the last turn? lol

17

It looks like a panel has been removed on the passenger side? Does that have something to do with the exhaust? Is that the way it campaigned?

18

@cyruzz Regulatory concerns in an effort to decrease costs and keep the playing field more "level" have indubitably played a role as well. Most racing series have many, many limits on engine options... most of those, by their very nature, exclude rotaries.

19

This is .... just......

20

DavidCamilo Along with the Ferrari F40's. I was very lucky to see all this live and in person. I was 18 and was lucky enough to work for Hotchkis Racing with the Porsche 962 and eventually the Pontiac Spics.

21

Oh boy, the Porsche 962. What a car. And the F40...sexy as hell also. You were lucky beyond words man!

22

KylePearson Believe it's because of the exhaust routing.

23

CharlesChris15 It happens!

24

Ice Age Yeah you actually have to look for it somewhere there between the huge tires haha.

25

@cyruzz Yep, no reason for Mazda to race a rotary right now because they don't make anything with a rotary anymore.

26

KyleMiller1 Nice. I've yet to see that one here on the West Coast. Would love to see it!

27

Brett Roper Let me see what I can find.

28

90nissanS13@my350z Agreed!

29

Great article, love everything rotary. Think you could do the the gtu fb sometime?

30

JakubKanhauser Mmmmm...Rotary...

31
deleted_82067014_Abezzegh87

because rotary is a failure and no company can make the concept for in real life. brap brap or not

32
deleted_82067014_Abezzegh87

because rotary is a failure and no company can make the concept for in real life. brap brap or not

33

Mike Garrett KylePearson One of the problems with rotaries in race trim is the issue that they need mufflers to meet noise limits (yes, even at race tracks) and so have to recess those mufflers to avoid having ride height limited by the things being under the car.  But once you do that, you come upon the other curious rotary exhaust problem of melting or burning the bodywork.  If you look at the Mustang GTO car, it has the same basic exhaust routing, but because the rotary exhaust temperatures are so much higher, the RX-7 mufflers need ventilation.  If you look at the 787B and the other prototype cars, the bodywork is slightly asymmetric - on the right side of the car near the bottom there's a bunch of ducting to cool the mufflers even on those.

34

Mike Garrett KylePearson One of the problems with rotaries in race trim is the issue that they need mufflers to meet noise limits (yes, even at race tracks) and so have to recess those mufflers to avoid having ride height limited by the things being under the car.  But once you do that, you come upon the other curious rotary exhaust problem of melting or burning the bodywork.  If you look at the Mustang GTO car, it has the same basic exhaust routing, but because the rotary exhaust temperatures are so much higher, the RX-7 mufflers need ventilation.  If you look at the 787B and the other prototype cars, the bodywork is slightly asymmetric - on the right side of the car near the bottom there's a bunch of ducting to cool the mufflers even on those.

35

Brett Roper I liked this lucky shot..

36

I love mah FD but this thing was a work of art!

37

Anyone know the specs on the wheels and what type of bbs are they?

38

KylePearson hence using one in your drift car (and being a geniunely cool guy) makes you a badass. cough* madfuckingMikeWhiddett

39

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