Mazda 787B - One Victory Was Enough For the Glory
Mazda 787/787B is probably the most famous Mazda racing car in history, although it competed for only two seasons (1990 and 1991) on the international racing scene. This car is proof that sometimes all it takes even for long lasting popularity is one great victory. For Mazda 787B, this historic victory took place during the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
The only car with Wankel rotary engine
The Mazda 787/787B was a Group C sports prototype built for use in the World Sportscar Championship, All Japan Sports Prototype Championship and Le Mans, according to FISA Group C and IMSA GTP regulations. The most important thing about the car was its engine which was different from other manufacturers because Mazda 787 was, at the time, the only and the last Wankel rotary-powered racing car in global racing.
The one Japanese victory at Le Mans
The Mazda 787/787B may not have been the fastest but it’s pride was its reliability. This reliability paid off in endurance races and the peak moment of this car was the race at the famous Le Mans circuit in 1991, when the #55 car went on to victory with Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler and Bertrand Gachot as drivers. It was, and still is, the only 24 Hours of Le Mans victory of the Japanese manufacturer.
Mazda 787 was the evolution of 767
The first Mazda 787, built in 1990, was the evolution of the previous racing prototypes: 767 and 767B. The chief designer for all Mazda racing cars was Nigel Stroud. He carried over many mechanical and design elements from 767 to 787 but with some notable exceptions, such as relocated radiators and redesigned doors. The biggest change was the new R26B rotary engine instead of the previously used 13J rotary engine. Its maximum power was 900 hp, but was limited to 700 hp during the race because of longevity. The car weighed 830 kg, and its monocoque chassis was built from carbon and kevlar.
Debut race at Fuji 1000
The first 787 chassis made its competition debut in April 1990 at the Fuji 1000 km race, the second round of the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship (JSPC) season. After Fuji, the second 787 chassis was completed and the team departed for Europe to prepare for Le Mans. The driver line-up in the #201 car included David Kennedy, Pierre Dieudonne, and Stefan Johansson, while in the #202 car, the drivers were B. Gachot, V. Weidler and J. Herbert.
In the qualifying rounds, the new 787s set the 22nd and 23rd fastest lap times. In the race, both cars were retired because of technical failures. After that, the Le Mans cars continued to compete in Japan without notable results.
Driven under old regulations
In 1991, Mazda had built three more 787B versions. The major development change was the intake system for the rotaries. FISA had begun to integrate regulations for a new engine formula in the World Championship which required all teams to use 3500 cc engines by 1992.
The cars which met these regulations in 1991 became the top C1 class, while cars with other engines, including the 787, were reclassified as C2. In the JSPC, however, Mazda’s 787s remained in the GTP class. The cars simultaneously competed in the JSPC series and Sportscar World Championship with two different crews. There were some good results through the season, but without podiums.
Le Mans victory was a big surprise
Because of such results, it was an even bigger surprise when Mazda 787B won the famous race at Le Mans. Mazda had entered three cars: one of them was a 787 from the previous year, numbered #56 and driven by Pierre Dieudonné, Takashi Yorino and Yojiro Terada, and two brand new 787B’s. The car #18 was driven by Maurizio Sandro Sala, Stefan Johansson and David Kennedy, and the #55 was driven by Volker Weidler, Johnny Herbert and Bertrand Gachot.
Winning car had a special livery
Unlike the other two cars which were painted in their standard blue stripes on white livery, #55 had bright orange and green scheme in honor of the main sponsor Renown, a Japanese clothing manufacturer. The three Mazdas started on 19th (#55), 23rd (#18) and 30th (#56), despite being the 12th, 17th and 24th fastest qualifiers respectively. The new 3.5 liter cars were given the first grid positions, moving everyone else back by seven places.
Herbert, Weidler and Gachot drove the victorious Mazda
Mercedes Benz C11 that belonged to Michael Schumacher, Fritz Kreutzpointner and Karl Wendlinger spun off and later pitted with a gearbox problem. At the 22nd hour, the #55 car took the lead after the Mercedes Benz C11 of Alain Ferte was forced to pit with mechanical problems. At the last pit-stop, Herbert asked to stay in the car and went on to take the 787B across the finish line first, completing 362 laps and covering 4932.2 km. The two other Mazdas finished sixth (#18) and eighth (#56).
After Le Mans, the winning car (chassis 787B-002) retired from duty while the other two 787B cars continued to race. The season high was a 3rd place in the 1000 km Fuji race. At the end of the season, Wankel-type rotary engines were outlawed and all cars were retired.
Demonstration lap at 20th anniversary
Mazda keeps the winning car at the Mazda Museum in Hiroshima. Four replicas were produced and one of them was given to the Le Mans Museum. After completing a restoration, the winning #55 787B visited Le Mans in 2011, at the 20th anniversary of the victory, and Johnny Herbert made a demonstration lap around the Circuit de La Sarthe. Other 787 and 787B cars occasionally make appearances at shows and celebrations, as Goodwood Festival of Speed.
YouTube video : Mazda 787B was in the focus of the 2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed