It’s tough to think of classic Le Mans cars without thinking of Mazda’s entries, beginning with the 767, 767B and 787. After mixed success with these chassis, tireless effort was put in to further improve the car and thus was born, the 787B.
So, what made up the car? The 13J engine was replaced by Mazda’s brand new R26B, making a staggering 900bhp, limited to a ‘mere’ 700 during endurance races for longevity, which proved to be its biggest strength. This was mated to a 5 speed Porsche gearbox, sat on Bilstein suspension with trick dampers.
Cooling systems were relocated, bodywork was redesigned, including large intakes on the side of the body. The monocoque design was built from carbon and kevlar in the United Kingdom, along with carbon fibre body panels. The weight was kept down at 830kg.
Le Mans – the big one.
Mazdaspeed entered three cars into the 59th 24 hour race at Le Mans, an older 787 and two 787B’s. The number 55, which was driven by Weidler, Herbert and Gachot, it was the only one of those cars with a bright livery, now of course, iconic. It was done so in honour of their main sponsor, Renown, a Japanese clothing manufacturer who had provided clothing for the team since 1988.
Mazda would have to not put a foot wrong to even get to the checkered flag. Fortunately, the bad luck that can affect any team in an endurance race can also favour another team. One of the Sauber teams lost around 40 minutes in the pits after the car’s undertray struck some debris on the track, bringing Mazda to third by halfway at 4am on Sunday morning.
After taking advantage of the Mercedes’ cars having gearbox problems during the race, Mazda found themselves in an unbelievable position, the potential to win the race. Herbert was leading and the team took the decision not to risk a driver change, and he stayed in the car and ultimately finished the race. Crowds stormed the track and while his teammates took to the podium, Herbert was taking to the medical facilities to be treated for dehydration and exhaustion, no one can say he didn’t give everything. Since he didn’t make the podium, he was given the opportunity in 2011 to drive his winning car and have his moment on the top step, check the video below.
After Le Mans, the winning car was retired from duty, while the only other two in existence carried on racing in the Japanese and world championship, finishing fourth and fifth. The chassis’ final race was the 430km of Autopolis, since after that the engines were replaced by 3.5 litre, meaning the rotary engines were no longer allowed.
Even if you forget all of the racing history of the car, you can still find things to marvel at. The shape, the curves and most importantly, the amazing sound. Check out the flyby video below:
Does it really get any better than that? A 9000rpm rotary scream unleashing 900bhp of Japanese fury. The only victory by a Japanese marque as well as the only victory by a car not using a reciprocating engine design. Regardless of success or anything else, you have to hand it to Mazda for trying something different and breeding a racing icon in the process.
Jay Daniels (@jaydaniels_)