Furai (pronounced “foo-rye” – Japanese for "sound of the wind") takes Mazda’s unique Nagare design language and translates it into a concept car based on an American Le Mans Series (ALMS) racing car.
The car utilizes the Courage C65 chassis the company campaigned in the ALMS series two seasons ago, and the 450-hp three-rotor rotary engine.
Franz von Holzhausen, Mazda North American Operations’ (MNAO) Director of Design and the person who lead the team that created the Furai, explains the concept behind the concept, “We were looking for a way to bridge the gap between Mazda Motorsports and the production vehicles in our lineup.
"The mindsets of road-car and racing car fans are quite different, so the purpose of Furai is to find a meeting point for these disparate interests.”
He continues: “Furai achieves this by purposely blurring boundaries that have traditionally distinguished the street from the track.
"Historically, there has been a gap between single-purpose racecars and street-legal models — commonly called supercars — that emulate the real racers on the road.”
Track cars are, by their competitive nature, ill-suited for practical highway use, as well as generally far from road-legal.
Some supercars visit the track on occasion, but they are primarily road cars not properly equipped for racing. The aim of Furai is to bridge this gap.
That said, Mazda neither intends to race Furai, nor is it a supercar the company plans to build and sell in the near future. Rather, Furai is a design study that lives between those extremes.
Without the restrictions imposed by serial production models, and with the freedom of an autoshow environment, Mazda is using the opportunity to evolve the company’s Nagare design theme one more step closer to reality.
“Anticipating future rules changes in the ALMS, we created a new closed cockpit which would be more appropriate for a future production model,” said von Holzhausen.
“The major element we did not change is the 450-horsepower RENESIS-based R20B three-rotor rotary engine that provides Furai ample Zoom-Zoom. The ultimate Mazda in our minds is rotary powered; as a company, we have no intention of abandoning that valuable asset. When people think of the very best sports cars in the world, the rotary powered Mazda RX-7 is always on that list.”
The Furai concept serves as a turning point in the Nagare developmental process. While the four previous concept cars explored different ways to express Mazda’s emerging design philosophy and to explore an aesthetic, this one is all about function – every last texture and detail serves some functional purpose.
Mazda’s design, motorsports and R&D teams worked together to construct Furai as a 180-mph rolling laboratory to demonstrate its functional capabilities on demand.
“The basic proportions of contemporary race cars are every designer’s dream,” enthused von Holzhausen. “Furai is less than 40-inches high but nearly 80-inches wide.”
According to Mazda the real beauty of the project is in the details that von Holzhausen and his team incorporated:
- The body surface provides ample opportunity to feature core design elements such as aggressive headlamps and Mazda’s trademark five-point grille.
- The headlamp trim pieces function as guide frames to help cancel aerodynamic lift.
- High-pressure zones just above the front wheels are relieved to serve the same end.
- The air flow package takes air moving under the front of the car and guides it inside the body to the engine-cooling radiators.
- Nagare textures incorporated in the side surfaces feed air to the rear brakes, the oil cooler and the transmission cooler.
- An under-car diffuser that begins rising aft of the cockpit helps draw the volume of air flowing through the heat exchangers and engine bay out the rear.
The Mazda design and R&D teams worked closely with Swift Engineering to refine the aerodynamic characteristics, assuring that Furai remains glued to the ground at high speeds.
The team used complex Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software to tune various Nagare design elements to function at a high degree of efficiency. Drag, downforce, lift and overall esthetics were all key considerations.
Sourced straight from the race track, the Courage carbon-composite tub is essentially intact under the new Furai body, including the right-side driver’s seat.
Instead of the stark interior typical of race cars though, this cockpit is finished with more comfortable but still highly functional surfaces. An electronic display screen and shift paddles are built into the steering wheel.
In the chassis’ original racing configuration, the passenger seat is filled with electronic gear, so those components were relocated elsewhere to provide adequate space for two occupants.
The greenhouse is somewhat wider than the original cockpit to provide adequate head and shoulder room and suitable outward visibility.
Doors attached with butterfly hinges provide a very efficient means of entering the cockpit.
In this instance, the design team followed an approach that has proven very effective during years of endurance racing.
“One thing we learned from CFD studies is that we don’t need much rear wing to balance the down force created by the front splitter and the Nagare features we’ve sculpted into the body” offered von Holzhausen.
“Combustion air is provided by a variation of the Turbo Tongue device that Swift developed for Indy car use a decade ago. It rises slightly higher than the surrounding roof surface to ingest clean air above the boundary layer.
"Our final design works so well that we applied for a joint patent with Swift. Of course, it helps that it’s a real piece of art, too, and one we had to incorporate into the design.”
The dark matte finish with red and orange accents harkens back to the livery worn by Mazda’s legendary 787B when it won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991, making the company the first – and still only – Japanese company to ever win the endurance classic.
Furai’s three-rotor powerplant has been tuned to run powerfully on ethanol (ethyl alcohol) and ethanol gasoline blends.
Technical partners of the Furai project include:
- Racing Beat – development of the ethanol powered three-rotor rotary engine.
- Liferacing & AER – six-speed paddle-shift mechanism.
- Brembo – braking system
- Sachs and Eibach – shock and spring package.
- Nippon Paint – three-feet-deep paintwork.
- Kumho – special tread patterns tires
- BBS – 14-spoke, centerlock aluminum wheels.
- MoTeC – Data acquisition and powertrain controllers.