Celebrating 20 years since its historic win at Le Mans in 1991, Mazda will be bringing its 787B race car out of retirement for a guest appearance at this year’s 24-hour race. Being the first and only Japanese automaker to claim the overall win at Le Mans, one of motorsports’ most challenging and prestigious endurance races, Mazda will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the development of its rotary engine — the engine that powered the 787B — at this year’s race.
Along with being the only Japanese competitor to win Le Mans, the 787B was the first and only winner powered by a rotary engine. Jointly developed by Mazda and Mazdaspeed, Mazda’s performance wing and manager of its racing efforts, the 787B was the product of 17 years of sports car racing as well as Mazda’s advancement of the rotary engine. The 787B’s 4-rotor engine was tuned to 700 PS (690 hp), but was capable of producing upwards of 900 hp. Although the rotary engine was banned the very next year thanks to changes to the World Sports Car Championship’s (WSC) Group C regulations, Mazda continues its participation in sports car racing and still occasionally contests the famed 24-hour race.
Having sat in the Mazda Museum in Hiroshima, Japan, since its Le Mans win, the 787B needed to be restored to driving condition before it could take to Le Mans’ Circuit de la Sarthe once again. For this, Mazda tapped its current employees who originally participated in the 787B’s racing campaign as well as engineers from its subsidiary engineering company Mazda E&T. Once thoroughly inspected and reconditioned, the race car was put through its paces by Mazda’s in-house development drivers, who confirmed that the 787B was ready for duty again. Now back in top form, the 787B can properly demonstrate its 10,500-rpm redline to crowds at Le Mans before this year’s race in June.
Various members of the 1991 Mazda team will be attending the race to witness the 787B’s return to the track they conquered 20 years ago. Among them, one of the three winning drivers, Johnny Herbert, and Mazda drivers of the 1991 WSC season, David Kennedy and Pierre Dieudonné, will be in attendance. Representing Mazda’s new crop of drivers, actor and racing driver Patrick Dempsey, who races a Mazda RX-8 in the GT class of the Grand-Am Rolex series, also plans to attend. Although rotaries are still banned at Le Mans, Mazda’s commitment to the engine design is still strong in other series, with Grand-Am being the most prominent. Since first tinkering with the Rotary engine in 1961, Mazda has since developed the power plant for applications in passenger cars and, of course, race cars.
Mazda says that its Le Mans win, while historic in its own right, was just one step in the evolution of its engines, which will soon enter another phase of advancement through the company’s next-generation SkyActive technology. With a history rooted in competition, the lengths gone to by Mazda to celebrate the anniversary of its Le Mans win certainly shows how much that achievement means to the brand.