Fast and frugal: Mazda6 Skyactiv diesel goes racing

Mazda6 Skyactiv-D diesel to race at 24 Hours of DaytonaFuel economy, not performance, is the focus of most midsize sedans. Mazda apparently wanted both. The Japanese carmaker will campaign a race-prepped Mazda6 powered by a Skyactiv-D diesel at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona January 26-27.

The race engine will be based on the 2.2-liter Skyactiv-D offered in European versions of the Mazda6. The engine will be based on a stock block, but will get new valves, pistons, connecting rods, and lubrication components for race duty.

Mazda did not say how much power the engine will produce, but the Grand Am class the 6 will be racing in has a target figure of 400 horsepower. The stock Skyactiv-D produces 173 hp and 310 pound-feet of torque.

Skyactiv is Mazda’s name for a suite of fuel-saving technologies that range from the diesel’s extremely low (14:1) compression ratio to the design of the transmission. It will be interesting to see how much of this makes it to the starting line.

Mazda will be fielding three cars at Daytona, and they should be easy to spot. The #25 Freedom Autosport car will be painted bright green with a giant eagle’s head graphic, the #00 Visit Florida Racing/SpeedSource/Yellow Dragon car will be yellow and orange, and the #70 SpeedSource car will be red and black.

A diesel-powered racer isn’t unheard of, but Mazda’s decision to put a diesel racing engine in a relatively stock sedan moves the technology into a new realm.

In recent years, Audi’s diesels and diesel-hybrids have dominated the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans, but these are purpose-built racecars. The R10 and R15 used 5.5-liter V12 and V10 diesels, respectively, while the R18 used a 3.7-liter V6. Last year’s race-winning R18 e-tron quattro used the same V6 and an electric motor.

With a production sedan’s bodywork and a much smaller inline-four, the Mazda6 is a much more relevant application of modern diesel technology to racing, and that means any knowledge Mazda gains racing it could be more easily applied to cars people can actually buy.

It may be less relevant to Americans, though. So far, Mazda isn’t bringing the 2.2-liter Skyactiv-D to the United States. Stateside buyers get a 2.5-liter gasoline Skyactiv engine with 189 hp and 189 lb-ft.

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