Making big horsepower for extended periods with small, turbocharged engines has been part of Mazda’s sports car racing DNA, and starting this season the brand’s endurance racing experience will intersect with Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.
Compared to most open-wheel racing engines, Mazda’s 2-liter, 4-cylinder turbo began its life far removed from the Indy Lights sprint race format. The powerplant, dubbed the MZR-R and built in partnership with Advanced Engine Research, was developed and honed in the American Le Mans Series as a lightweight solution for prototypes.
The MZR-R, with reliability and power as its core attributes, went on to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, powered the ALMS LMP champions in 2011 and won its class at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 2012. As Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan explains, the motor was a perfect crossover choice for the brand.
“Mazda and AER partnered on our first sports car engine starting in December of 2006 with the intent of competing in the American Le Mans series and the European Le Mans series,” Doonan said. “The sports car engine, over time, went through several iterations, specifically on the reliability front, and we got to a point where it was making incredible power for incredible lengths of time.
“We finished running that engine in 2012, began focusing on our SKYACTIV diesels in 2013, and with the new direction being taken for Indy Lights we felt the MZR-R could be a perfect fit to take the series into its next chapter. It’s small, it’s efficient, it can make whatever power level they need, and it has a heritage that has been proven at some of the biggest races in the world.”
The MZR-R was making well over 500 horsepower by the time Mazda’s ALMS program concluded, and with less power required for the Indy Lights cars Doonan believes the engine will prove to be an affordable and reliable complement to the new Dallara chassis.
“The target set by Dan Andersen and his team at Indy Lights has been 450 horsepower, which is well below its capabilities, and we know it can run for 10 or 12 hours straight without problems,” Doonan said. “Dan’s intent, and certainly Mazda’s intent, was to be able to give the teams an engine that is capable of doing a full season without a rebuild. Early testing has proven that, and we haven’t had any engine issues since testing began with the Dallara IL-15.”
With all three steps of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder program featuring Mazda engines, Doonan said a long-held desire to power Indy Lights has finally been realized.
“Mazda’s known for a lot of things: our grassroots racing programs, the Global MX-5 Cup, everything we do in sports car racing, and we also have a long tradition in open-wheel racing and supporting the drivers moving up the ladder,” he said. “Indy Lights is the top of that ladder, and we’ve wanted to be there to make sure drivers have the best engine possible that will train them for the turbocharged engines they’ll use one day in IndyCar.
“I think it’s a great story, personally, that we’ve been able to take a cutting-edge turbo engine that won championships for Mazda in sports cars, make some detail changes on installation and packaging with our partners at AER, and continue using technology that is both modern and relevant in open-wheel racing. Everyone at Mazda is quite proud to know the MZR-R will bring value to Indy Lights teams and make new champions starting this year.”