The Glorious Roar of a Three-Rotor RX-8 Stirs the Soul
Certain race cars still spit flames, but the rotary variety of on-track pyrotechnics is almost certainly gone for good.
In motorsports, basically everything sounds awesome. Screeching sequential gearboxes, un-corked exhausts attached to modified engines of all shapes and sizes, slick tires getting lit up exiting the pit box… Even air jack systems sound cool. This is the symphony of the pursuit of speed. One of the ultimate examples of all this is what lived under the hoods of Mazda RX-8s just over a decade ago in the Grand Am Rolex Series: mighty three-rotor, 20B rotary engines.
Mazda is (in)famous for the unconventional pistonless engines that used to be part of its sporty signature. In the U.S.A., the company built three generations of the amazing RX-7 with two-rotor engines that were originally carbureted, then fuel-injected, and eventually turbocharged as they evolved. In Japan and in motorsport, larger-displacement three-rotor engines made even more power and noise. Glorious, glorious noise.
If you’re not up to speed on the concept already, our friends at The Drive have a robust rotary-engine explainer post for you.
A 20B is one of Mazda’s three-rotor engines. The 13B Renesis was the two-rotor engine under the hood of the road-going RX-8, but the 20B was put in the mostly-tube-frame, race car variant. Its home in GT-class was occupied by the likes of Porsche 911 GT3s, Ferrari F430s, and Corvettes, so they needed a lot of power to keep up.
Mazda didn’t just toss in a naturally-aspirated 20B and call it good; the 20B was ported extensively for maximum intake and exhaust flow, with motorsports engine management wired in to ensure maximum aggression. The result was north of 400 horsepower in a car that weighed in around 2,240 pounds, with a sequential gearbox to get all that power to the rear wheels as efficiently as possible.
With the addition of a bunch of other race car magic, the result was mesmerizing. A screaming, fire-spitting beast that ate up corners like nobody’s business and had no problem sparring with the competition. This video on YouTube is the perfect demonstration:
There are a few other, non-rotary cars in the first half of the clip, but their noise is overpowered by the screaming RX-8s. Just hearing these beasts approach from the distance is so freaking cool. Plus, the RX-8s belching quite-visible flames in broad daylight is so badass. This badassery is also exemplified in photos of them racing at Daytona.
Check out this onboard footage in the late afternoon at Watkins Glen, too; the noise is pure, beautiful music.
Unfortunately, this is something we’ll never see in professional motorsports ever again. Certain race cars still spit flames, but the rotary variety of on-track pyrotechnics is almost certainly gone for good.