Re-live the race car: a brief history

Read about the triumphant Le Mans winning Mazda 787B

Today we are writing about the legendary Mazda 787B that has written itself into the history books for the famous win that the car achieved in the 1991 24 hours of Le Mans race. Let's start though, with a brief history of how the car was conceived, along with the race drivers that tried to tame the animal.

The Development of the car

The car was a successor to the previous 767/767B, which also used a rotary engine. Mazda decided they'd follow suit in the same vein with the 787/787B. The main changes in the engine from the car's predecessor were that the 787 actually added continuously variable intakes and used three spark plugs per rotor which was one more than the engine before, resulting in a cleaner burn and thus creating more power coming in at 900hp, although this was often reduced to increase longevity. Mazda kept the original Porsche 5 speed gearbox too. Other slight developments were made as well such as radiator and intake modifications.

Continuous improvements kept being made such as ECU upgrades, more intake upgrades and general reliability updates to ensure the machinery would last the gruelling 24 hour race. By the start of 1991 we were presented with the 787B that we all know so well today.


Now, this may be a short and sweet paragraph, and that's because apart from the one notable achievement that forms the reason for this very article, the 787B didn't really have too many more. So let's get on to that notable achievement then, shall we?

Going into the fourth round of the world sportscar championship, the 787 had been relatively unsuccessful earning a 6th, 7th and 11th place in rounds 1, 2 and 3. The mainstay drivers through the season were Yoshimi Katayama, David Kennedy, and Pierre Dieudonné.

Three cars were entered by Mazda into the Le Man 24hrs, 1 of which was a 787 (No.56 driven by Dieudonné, Yorino and Terada.) whilst the other two cars were the 787b's. They were numbered, No. 18 driven by Maurizio Sandro Sala, Johansson and Kennedy and No.55 Driven by Weidler, Herbert and Gachot. This was to be No.55's one and only race in the championship.

No.55 qualified 12th but started the race 19th as the 3.5l cars got the first grid spots. No.55 was the only car of the three competing painted in that fantastic orange and green livery. Due to the reliability and fuel efficiency of the Wankel engine, Mazda decided they could try and drive the No.55 car harder. Due to this strategy and a few mishaps of other cars, No.55 soon found itself in a great position to win the race, not something many would've hedged their bets on at the time. With just under 2 hours left to go in the race, the front running Mercedes C11 had to pit due to some issues with the car, handing the lead to Johnny Herbert at the wheel of car No.55, crossing the line at the 24 hour mark first and winning the Le Man 24hr for Mazda in the 787B.

There's no Herbert because he was taken to the medical centre

There's no Herbert because he was taken to the medical centre

This was an amazing victory not only because Mazda had come from nowhere to win, but also because they were the first Japanese manufacturer to win the 24hr of LeMans. Along with this the Mazda 787B was also the first car to win that didn't use a piston engine, which shows what an innovative design it really was. I also believe due to rule changes they may hold that title indefinitely!

It was so historic that Mazda decided to retire the specific car after the race and never use it again.

Let us know one of your favourite race cars from any series in the comments bellow, and we may write about it next time!

Join Automotive Waffle here!

Follow us on Instagram here!

And drop us a follow on Twitter here!

If you enjoyed our article have a read of one of our more obscure articles!

Join In

Comments (2)

  • I hate to rain on the parade of the 787B, but it's surely one of the luckiest winners of all time. A massive 12 seconds off pole and it's fellow class entrants, languishing around the C2 entries.

      1 year ago
    • Yes definitely, the 787B probably is the luckiest winner of all time, however it’s hard to ignore the legendary status of such a machine!

        1 year ago