Image credits: © Mazda.

1991 Mazda 787B

The 1991 Mazda 787B is a Group C sports prototype racing car that was built by Mazda for use in the World Sportscar Championship, using Mazda's bespoke 4 rotor racing R26B engine. Although the 787B lacked the single lap pace of competitors such as Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, and Porsche, as well as Japanese competitors Nissan and Toyota, the Mazda had reliability which paid off after 17 attempts. In 1991, this 787B driven by Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler, and Bertrand Gachot went on to victory in the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans. This remains, as of today, the only victory by an Asian marque as well as the only victory by a car not using a reciprocating engine design at the famed French circuit. The 787B is normally on display at Mazda's Museum in Hiroshima, Japan.
The Wrankel rotary powered Mazda 787B will be forever known for winning at LeMans in 1991, becoming the first Japanese manufacturer to win the 24 Hour event. It averaged 205.133 km/h and was piloted by Bertrand Gachot, Johnny Herber and Volker Weidler.

Winning on - what many believe - to be motorsports greatest stage was truly an impressive accomplishment. It had taken significant time and resources and was met with tremendous success. The company's purpose in devoting so much effort was to showcase their 'Wankel' (rotary) engine which they had licensed in 1961. Up to this point in history, the engine had only been powerful enough to contest the 'IMSA GTP' class. Time was nearing an end for Mazda, as rule changes would soon make the engine obsolete.

In 1990, Mazda introduced their 787. The 787 was an evolution of the 767 and 767B sports racing car which had been used by Mazda during the 1988 and 1989 season. Nigel Stroud used many of the mechanical elements found in the 767 for the 787. There were exceptions, however, such as the 13J Wankel rotary engine, which was replaced with the new R26B unit. It had a nearly identical layout and displacement as its predecessor, but included new design elements such as continuously variable intakes and three spark plugs per rotor instead of the 20B's two. Though horsepower was limited to 700, it was capable of an astonishing 900 HP.

Another change for the 787 was the relocation of the radiators, which was now a single unit integrated into the nose of the 787. A Gurney flap was installed on the radiator exit which gave the front end more downforce. With these changes, the doors required a redesign.

The Mazda 787B was a further development of the 787 with improvements made to the chassis, increasing its pace and reliability. Another update was to the intake system for the rotaries. One of the necessary elements to properly compete in the 24 Hour event was good fuel economy due to the restricted amount available to each car. The Mazdaspeed engineers determined the car would need to compete 367 laps during the 24 Hours in order to win. They limited the engine revs to 8,500 RPM, restricting horsepower to 650 BHP. With a decrease in power, the engineers were hoping reliability and performance would increase their chances. One area they focused heavily on was cornering speeds without affecting consumption.

In preparation for the 1991 season, and with the help of Jacky Ickx and Hugues de Chaunac's Oreca team, the cars were put through long distance endurance testing in 1991. The 787 was tested first, followed by the 787B in April. By this point in history, the 787B had made its racing debut at Suzuka where it placed sixth, followed by a ninth at Monza. At LeMans, the team brought two 787Bs with a 787 serving as backup. They competed in the C2 class. David Kennedy, Stefan Johansson and Maurizio Sandro-Sala were assigned the 787B number 18. Volker Weidler, Johnny Herbert and Bertrand Gachot were given the other 787B car number #55. At qualifying, the number 55 finished 12th and the number 18 placed 17th. The 787 qualified in 24th.

For the race, the Mazda drivers were directed to follow specific lap times, conserve fuel consumption and to complete 37 laps. When the checkered flag dropped after 24 hours, the 787B number 55 was in the lead. The other two Mazdas finished 6th and 8th.

The Mazda 787 and the 787B were Group C sports prototype racing cars were used in the World Sportscar Championship, All Japan Sports Prototype Championship, and the 24 Hours of LeMans. It raced at LeMans in 1990 and 1991.

The 787 and 787B may not have had the power of some of its competitors, such as Porsche, Jaguar, and Mercedes-Benz, but it did have reliability which eventually paid off, with a victory at Lemans.

In total, there were two 787 models produced, and three 787B models.
By Daniel Vaughan | May 2013

The first Le Mans entry with Rotary Engine

The first attempt by a rotary-engined vehicle at Le Mans was made in 1970. Mazda s 10A rotary engine was run in a British-built Chevron B16 by the Belgian team, Levi s International Racing. Únfortunately, the engine overheated in the early stages of the race and the car was forced to retire.

In 1973, Sigma Automotive, a Japanese team, entered the Mazda MC73 powered by the 12A rotary engine, which battled for 11 hours until its clutch failed. The following year, in 1974, Mazda Auto Tokyo, which later became Mazdaspeed, joined the team. The 12A rotary engine-powered MC74 car competed for the full 24 hours only to be classified as DNF ( Did Not Finish ) for not completing the required number of laps. In 1975, a private French team entered wîth a Mazda S124A ( Savanna RX-3 ), but retired before completing the race.
1979 -1982
Savanna RX-7-based Silhouette Formula becomes the first rotary car to successfully complete Le Mans
In 1979, Mazda Auto Tokyo produced a silhouette formula version of the recently launched Savanna RX-7. Dubbed the 252i, it was powered by the dual-rotor 13B rotary engine. Due to bad weather and various mechanical troubles, it missed the qualification time by a mere 0.7 seconds. Two years later, two 253s wîth enhanced aerodynamics were entered in the International Motor Sports Association ( IMSA ) class. They managed to qualify, but dropped out wîth differential and transmission problems.

In 1982, two Mazda 254s wîth further improvements were entered for Le Mans. One car retired wîth a faulty fuel line and the other was just moments from the finish line when it pulled up wîth engine trouble. However, the car quickly returned to the track and passed the checkered flag to take fourteenth place overall and sixth in the IMSA GTX class.
Mazda s first genuine two-seat racing car, the Mazda 717C, wins Group C Junior
The 717C was the first Mazda car specifically designed for racing. It sported the 13B rotary engine wîth Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injectors and easily qualified for the 1983 Le Mans 24 hour race. Soon after the start, one car burst its right rear tire midway along the 300 km/h Mulsanne straight. The burst tire damaged the rear cowling and led to a one-hour pitstop. After suffering two tire punctures, the second car gradually began to work its way up through the field. The two Mazdas found themselves racing together soon after midday, and crossed the finish line together. The lead car took twelfth position overall, winning the Group C Junior class in its inaugural year. The other Mazda finished second in its class. 717C car number 60 also recorded the best fuel economy throughout the race ( 3.2km/L ) and the hardworking team earned the trophy for Best Mechanic.

In June of that year, Mazda Auto Tokyo reorganized its motor sports department into what is now called Mazdaspeed, and began full-scale design and build work on a sports prototype car for Le Mans, as well as carrying on development of Mazda Racing Team activities.
The Mazda 727C and C2 class-winning Lola T616 Mazda
At the 1984 Le Mans, four rotary engined cars entered the renamed C2 class ( formerly Group C Junior ). Two were 727Cs wîth improved 310 bhp 13B engines that were run by the Mazdaspeed team and two were Lola T616s Mazdas from the American B.F. Goodrich team. The Mazdaspeed cars were beset by troubles. Car 86 lost three and a half hours due to a collision wîth another car and transmission problems, while car 87 lost two hours wîth suspension trouble. In contrast, as morning broke on the second day the Lola T616 Mazdas were racing amongst the C1 class contenders in fifteenth and sixteenth. By midday they had crept up to eleventh and thirteenth. At three o clock, the lead car passed the checkered flag for tenth place overall and a win in the C2 class. The other Lola T616 Mazda also had a good race and secured a twelfth place finish. Although the 727Cs finished a disappointing fifteenth and twentieth, all four cars successfully completed the full 24 hours.
From the Mazda 727C to the 737C, yet victory is still out of reach
Several improvements were made to the 737C car that was prepared for the 1985 Le Mans. The wheelbase was extended by 80 mm for greater stability, the body rigidity was enhanced and the suspension reworked. The 13B rotary engine also featured new carburetors and other updates. The 737Cs qualified in 40th and 44th place, but incurred a string of problems in the actual race. These included engine trouble, a flat battery due to faulty wiring of the dynamo, and damaged bearings in the gearbox. Against the odds both cars completed the race, but only managed third in class ( 19th overall ) and sixth in class ( 24th overall ).
New Mazda 757 debuts in the IMSA-GTP class
At Le Mans 1986, Mazda moved up from the C2 class to the IMSA-GTP class. The GTP category allowed a lighter car, but enjoyed the same fuel allocation as the C1 class. The new 757 race car was penned by the British engineer, Nigel Stroud, and boasted an innovative 13G triple-rotor engine that produced 450 PS at 8,500 rpm.
Two 757s began the race behind the lead group of Porsches and Jaguars. Both cars started well, but four hours into the race, one car came to a halt on the inside of the Arnage corner. It had suffered a damaged drive shaft. The second Mazda experienced an identical problem at 1:46 in the morning of the second day and also dropped out. Despite this, a clear improvement in power gave the team renewed hope for the future.
An improved Mazda 757 finishes seventh overall; the best ever result for a Japanese car
The two 757 race cars that entered Le Mans 1987 were lighter and featured several technical improvements over the previous year s model. The vehicles setup was also adjusted to better match the altered track, which featured an extra chicane just before the Dunlop Bridge for enhanced safety. The race started in a great spray of rainwater, and both Mazda cars flew down the track. However, shortly after six p.m., just two hours from the start, one car dropped out wîth engine trouble. The second car had troubles of its own. A problem wîth the wiper linkage and a broken left rear suspension forced pit stops, but it quickly returned to the track. As the race wore on, the top teams began to collapse in a flurry of crashes. The Mazda 757 powered through to the best ever finish for a Japanese car: seventh overall and first in the IMSA GTP/GTX class.
Mazda 767 wîth the four-rotor racing engine
After the F d ration Internationale du Sport Automobile ( FISA ) imposed new regulations in 1987, Mazda decided to develop the four-rotor 13J-M ( M stands for modified ) engine. Through collaboration wîth Mazdaspeed, the development process focused on minimizing the engine length and enhancing its rigidity. With only three months to complete development and numerous obstacles to overcome, Mazda s resources were stretched. High engine rigidity was ensured by reinforcing the top of the engine wîth an aluminum honeycomb/carbon fiber composite, and the base wîth aluminum honeycomb. External engine parts were mounted on to the top and sides of the engine to reduce the overall length. The finished 13J-M produced an impressive 600 PS.

The 767 was developed wîth Mazda s new four-rotor engine and a chassis based on the 757. The 767 was more compact than the 757 to reduce air resistance drag; its length was cut A long nose, short tail design was chosen in order to generate powerful downforce. A great deal of hope was pinned on this new machine.

Mazda entered two 767s and one 757 for the 1988 Le Mans. From the beginning of the race, several works Porsches and Jaguars formed a closely fought lead group. The remaining cars formed a second group someway behind. The two 767s were gradually climbing up the second group when, at 6:50 a.m. on the second day, one of the cars made a scheduled pit stop. The mechanics discovered a crack in the exhaust manifold and broken teeth on the water pump gear. Just three minutes later, the other 767 came into the pit wîth the same trouble. By the time all the damaged parts were replaced, both cars had dropped a long way down the order. At the finish, the 757 stood in 15th position, wîth the 767s in 17th and 19th ( first, second and third in the IMSA GTP class ). Although the result was not what the team was aiming for, all three cars successfully completed the race.
Seventh overall best result as Japanese brand - and a third straight IMSA GTP class win at Le Mans
The problems that had struck the 767s in 1988 were investigated and remedied, and three improved 767Bs were entered for the 1989 Le Mans. Development of the 767B had focused on three main areas: increasing power output from the 13J-M engine at low to mid engine speeds, reducing weight and enhancing the aerodynamics.

All three cars started well, and sped through the first 12 hours without encountering any major problems. As they passed through the morning of the second day, the 767Bs actually increased their pace and went on to cross the finish line in formation. The lead Mazda took seventh overall, equaling the best result ever achieved by a Japanese make, and won the IMSA GTP class for the third year in a row. The other 767Bs finished in ninth and twelfth overall and earned Mazda an impressive 1-2-3 in the GTP class.
The last rotary race? Disappointment at the 1990 Le Mans
At the end of Le Mans 1989, Mazda set a new target of 800PS and overall victory in one year , and developed the four-rotor engine 787B based on the concept of over 350 km/h car . It was thought that 1990 would be the last time rotary engines would be allowed to race at Le Mans, so Mazda was leaving no stone unturned in its bid for overall victory. Six-time Le Mans winner Jacky Ickx was appointed head consultant, and experienced drivers were drafted in from Formula One. Mazda adopted a three-car setup for the race wîth two 787s and one 767B. At four p.m., the race got underway. Soon after passing the 12-hour mark, problems began to arise for the two 787s. Brake discs and pads and one rear wheel hub had to be changed, and the cars began to overheat and suffer from fuel percolation (vapor lock). One car dropped out wîth a damaged side housing and the other retired due to a wiring harness problem. The remaining 767B also experienced its fair share of trouble. A headlamp was damaged and the mechanics had to repair the rear axle bearing and replace both the driveshaft and the gearbox. It came over the line first in the IMSA GTP class, but could not manage better than 20th overall.
1991 : Mazda s victory at Le Mans
Last chance for Le Mans wîth Mazda 787B
In 1991, the World Sportscar Championship, which includes Le Mans, was renamed the FIA Sportscar World Championship. The change included revised regulations that bunched the various existing classes, such as C, C2 and GTP, into just two classes: Category 1 and Category 2. Category 1 stipulated naturally aspirated 3.5 liter engines wîth no fuel limit. Mazda entered Category 2, which allowed greater freedom in terms of displacement, number of cylinders and turbos, yet restricted cars to just 2,550 liters of fuel. (concept carz) The governing body had decided, however, that Category 2 was to be discontinued from 1992. After 17 years and 12 attempts since 1974, the 1991 Le Mans was to be the final chance for Mazda, Mazdaspeed Team and the rotary engine.

Mazda entered two 787B racecars and one 787 for the 1991 Le Mans. Both models were powered by the R26B four-rotor naturally aspirated engine, though the 787B boasted several improvements over the previous year's 787.
1991 Le Mans Qualification
Forty three cars made it to the first day of qualification on June 18, having passed the previous day's inspections. Despite persistent light showers, all three Mazda cars managed to set impressive times at a relatively early stage.

Day two of qualifying opened to yet more rain and a wet track. As it gradually dried out, each team set about improving on their earlier times. Instead of chasing lap times, however, the Mazdaspeed Team decided to use this second day to concentrate on optimizing the vehicle settings for the actual race. Once the settings were finalized, all the drivers felt confident of a good result.
( Qualification results: Mazda 787B car No. 55: 12th, Mazda 787B car No. 18: 17th, Mazda 787 car
No. 56: 24th )
And they're off...
Following qualification, all the teams enjoyed a day off. Then, at 4 p.m. on June 22, the Le Mans race began wîth a rolling start, and all hopes were pinned on the goal 24 hours away. Thirty eight cars had made it through qualifying. The rules placed the top 10 cars from Category 1 at the front of the grid, wîth all the rest lined up behind according to qualifying times.
Although the Mazdas had set good lap times, this rule meant the three cars - cars 55, 18 and 56 - were pushed back to 19th, 23rd and 30th positions along wîth powerful teams such as Mercedes, Jaguar and Porsche. However, wîth some aggressive driving, car 55 managed to get as high as third place by lap 12 when it came in for its first pitstop. The other two cars were also lapping well.

The first battle as dusk falls
The evening sky was growing dark when the race reached the quarter-way point at 10 p.m. Mercedes was leading comfortably wîth cars in the top three positions. On lap 89, the No. 55 Mazda managed to pass a Jaguar and moved up into fourth place. It then began to chase down the leaders, which were lapping at around 3 minutes 44 seconds, close to the Mazda's qualifying time. The other Mazda 787B, car No. 18, was screaming down the Hunaudieres Straight just behind the car in front when its nose cowl suddenly flew up. Fortunately, the car made it to the pits where the nose was replaced. It did not cause any more trouble for the remainder of the race. Meanwhile, the No. 56 Mazda 787 had begun to pick up its pace in the cooler evening air and, lapping at close to 3 minutes 50 seconds, it moved up to 13th place.
The rotary engines' roar echoed in the darkness
Soon after 11 p.m., wîth the race entering the middle stages, the sky grew pitch black. The three Mercedes were still leading and their 5-liter turbo power, stability and durability were lòòking unbeatable. However, in the middle of the night the No. 32 Sauber Mercedes dropped back, leaving the team wîth just two cars in front. Behind them, the battle for fourth place between the No. 55 Mazda and the previous year's champion Jaguar continued neck and neck for over eight hours. Shortly after 3 a.m., on lap 175, the Mazda pushed into third place ahead of the No. 35 Jaguar. It then proceeded to gradually pull away by around two seconds a lap.

The other two Mazdas, cars 18 and 56, were also lapping well and creeping up the standings.
The race heats up As dawn broke on day two, twenty cars were still running, wîth nineteen having retired. In third position, the No. 55 Mazda was upping the pace and continuing to put pressure on the two leading Mercedes. The German cars were responding to the challenge by going quicker still, and it was fast becoming a question of endurance.

At 4 a.m., the second placed Sauber Mercedes, No. 31, was struck wîth a drivetrain problem and dropped out of contention, allowing the 55 Mazda to move up into second. Meanwhile, fifth placed Mazda No. 18 was also running strongly and had narrowed the gap to the Jaquar ahead down to 30 seconds. However, a problem wîth its right drive shaft was discovered during a pitstop at 9 a.m., and after repairs it returned to the track down in seventh. By early morning, the third Mazda had worked its way up to ninth position when a tire suddenly burst. The pit crew waited anxiously for the car to come in, but after a quick tire change it was back in the race without dropping a single position.

The rotary car makes history as Mazda becomes the first Japanese champion
As the race entered the final stage, more and more cars were retiring, crashing or slowing down to conserve fuel. (concept carz) Car 55 had been holding second place since the early morning. It was now just four laps behind the leader and continuing to post faster times than the No. 1 Mercedes. Shortly before one o'clock, the leading Sauber Mercedes pulled into the pit wîth an overheating engine. An extended pitstop allowed the 55 Mazda to make up the lap difference.

At the moment it swept into the top spot, a thunderous roar was let out by the spectators.

At 3:45 p.m., the two Mazda 787B cars, 55 and 18, joined up so they could cross the finish line in formation. Fifteen minutes later, at 4 p.m., Mazda and Mazdaspeed gloriously recorded a historical first win for a Japanese car at Le Mans.
The Fruits of Mazda's Enduring Spirit of Challenge
With their continued attempts at victory at Le Mans over so many years, Mazda and Mazdaspeed had become a very familiar presence for the top racing teams and passionate racing fans gathering from all over the world at Circuit de la Sarthe. The victory of the Mazda 787B, painted in the Charge colors of vivid orange and green, was celebrated by many spectators and even won the praise of its rivals.

The 24 Heures du Mans is said to be the toughest endurance race in the world. Some viewed Mazda's victory in this race as the result of a 'lucky loophole in the regulations'. However, the total of 362 laps or 4,923.2km run by the Mazda 787B in the race exceeded the lap number of the winning car in the previous year. This record was not broken the following year, 1992, when Le Mans was held under the new regulations.

This can be marked as a milestone achieved by the Wankel rotary engine, developed and manufactured by Mazda in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1961. It is the result of the blood, sweat and tears poured into technical progress by the Mazda engineers, and the 'enduring spirit of challenge' of the Mazdaspeed team. The victory also marked the moment when Mazda's unique technology became known throughout the world.

Source - Mazda

1991 Le Mans winning Mazda 787B guest stars in 2011 with Johnny Herbert and Patrick Dempsey

20 years after winning the world's most demanding 24-hour endurance race, the No. 55 Mazda 787B car returned as a guest star for Le Mans 2011. Twice driven in demonstration laps around the legendary Circuit de la Sarthe on Thursday, June 9 and Saturday 11, it thrilled the huge Le Mans crowds wîth a revival of the unforgettable sound of its 4-rotor engine. This fully-restored unique original also opened the drivers' parade around the Le Mans city center on Friday, June 10.

'It is a wonderful opportunity to be here in Le Mans again this year. It's really my first time in this car and it has lots of personality. I tried to start a relationship wîth it in two laps!' says Patrick Dempsey, the actor and Mazda RX-8 racer and team owner in the Grand-AM series in the ÚSA. Dempsey was the first to drive the 787B on Thursday, before joining the drivers' parade on Friday to the delight of the excited onlookers. He also participated in Mazda's press conference together wîth Seita Kanai, Mazda's director and executive vice president, and many of the 1991 winning team members and drivers, as well as Jean-Claude Plassart, the president of the Automobile Club de L'Ouest (ACO, the Le Mans organizer).

At the drivers' parade, 170,000 astonished spectators watched the 700 horsepower racer tear around the streets of Le Mans at the hands of Yojiro Terada (Japan) and David Kennedy (Ireland), both long time Mazda racing drivers at Le Mans. The parade continued wîth Patrick Dempsey and Seita Kanai accompanied by Pierre Dieudonné (Belgium) and many others.

On Saturday, as a warm-up to the race, Johnny Herbert (ÚK) returned for the first time to the wheel of his winning car for two laps of pure emotion. After piloting the 787B first across the finish line in 1991, he was unable to join his team co-drivers on the podium due to faintness from dehydration. This year however, after comically re-enacting his faint, he was invited to finally step onto the Le Mans podium and celebrate his victory and Mazda's victory; the first and only Japanese car manufacturer to win the 24 hours of Le Mans.

Seita Kanai, executive vice president of Mazda Motor Corporation, says, 'It is amazing to see that so many motorsport fans still remember Mazda's victory at the 24 hours of Le Mans 20 years ago and are still so enthusiastic. Our victory was a story of pure commitment and passion from our engineers and the entire team. This same spirit thrives today wîth the development of our breakthrough SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY for the next generation of Mazda cars.'

Source - Mazda
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