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September 18, 2023

An Ode To The Internal Combustion Engine: Mazda Fan Festa 2023 At Fuji Speedway

It was a traffic jam worth being in. As our bus went inside the premises of the Fuji International Speedway, we were surrounded by a gaggle of Mazdas. Most were MX-5s, CX-5s, and CX-60s, but there was an odd Mazda Luce or two. Seeing the sight, our bus driver muttered the words, “Ah, rotary engine.” While I couldn’t make out the rest of his Nihongo, his knowledge of Mazda’s trademark engine spoke volumes of the brand’s indelible mark among the Japanese, and the rest of the world for that matter.

We were there purely as fans and spectators, so we feared we’d miss the first major activity of the day: a demo run of Mazda’s iconic rotary race cars. This, of course, included the 1991 Le Mans winning Mazda 787B. Jumping off the bus, we headed to the first set of empty grandstands we could find. A few minutes later, the iconic orange and green racecar, bearing the #55, barreled out the pitlane.

As it made its way around the 4.5-kilometer circuit, it was like a Shinto priest blessing the circuit or warding off bad weather. True enough, its unmistakable shrill echoed under the clear, blue sky. Under the skilled hands of Yojiro Terada—known by many as Mr. Lemans—its four-rotor R26B engine permeated the grandstands at full revs. Instead of covering their ears, everyone whipped out their phones, cameras, or simply took everything in. It was a sensory overload. With the 787B spitting out fire from its exhaust, it made another lap.

By the time it reached the end of its second lap, it was joined on track by all four generations of the MX-5—an equally iconic car that brought back the lightweight, affordable sportscar formula to the modern era. Hopping down from the latest-generation “ND” was Mazda Corporation president and CEO Masahiro Moro.

Moro, at 40-year veteran at Mazda, welcomed everyone at the Fuji Speedway. Speaking in Japanese, it was clear from his expression that it was a poignant moment for him. It was the first time in five years that Mazda Fan Festa was held at the world-renowned racing circuit due to the pandemic. Now, as the world puts that challenge behind it, Moro is focusing his attention to the future—a future that doesn’t forget Mazda’s past.

Moro said that Mazda will remain committed to designing and building emotionally-rich vehicles for the carbon neutral age. He then pointed to the Polymetal Gray MX-5 ND on the track and said it was fueled by carbon neutral fuel. Sharing the same basic running gear as the road-going MX-5—a 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G and 6-speed Skyactiv-Drive manual, it hasn’t just participated at the Super Taikyu Series, but in that day’s 4-hour Fan Endurance Race as well.

Aside from the carbon neutral fuel-powered MX-5, there were a bio-diesel-powered Mazda2 and Mazda3 in the paddocks. And the company’s reborn rotary, found in the MX-30 R-EV, was also present—a few days after its Japanese market launch.

As Moro and his management team made their way off the track, another demonstration run, this time by “Mad Mike” Whiddett and his four-rotor RX-7 created a smoke screen dividing the pits and the grandstands, literally. After that, in tradition of past Fan Festas, it was time for the various club runs.

This year’s Mazda Fan Festa at the Fuji Speedway seemed like a love letter to the internal combustion engine in general, and the rotary, specifically. Some may see it as old fashioned or even politically incorrect as society has started to target strict environmental compliance; Mazda, however, sees things differently. They continue to believe that there are many paths towards carbon neutrality—a path that some carmakers have started to abandon. Electrification is one path, but they still believe that there are other ways to achieve long-term sustainability.

Mazda’s refusal to abandon the technology that saved them at one point is perhaps ingrained in their culture and psyche. It’s one that continued to leverage their ever-challenging spirit and one that has helped them create legendary vehicles like the 787B and the MX-5. Mazda acknowledges that the future is sustainable and carbon neutral, but at the same time, they want to create one that could also be fun, emotional, and engaging. They want to provide a multi-sensory experience centered around the joy of driving an automobile and to spread the passion to those who feel the same way.

Read our Mazda Fan Festa experience at Fuji Speedway in 2018. A second Mazda Fan Festa at Okayama is happening this November. Learn more here.

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