The 787B was Mazdaspeed’s weapon in the World Sportscar Championship’s Group C, as well as the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship. Designed by Nigel Stroud with a carbon-kevlar monocoque built in the UK, the car was Anglo-Japanese teamwork at its finest. To this day it’s the only Japanese car to take overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, achieved with a screaming rotary engine that produced 900 horsepower or 700 in race trim for the best possible reliability. Its engine is also unique amongst Le Mans winners as the FIA outlawed rotaries at the end of the 1991 season.
Despite lacking the outright lap time pace of its competition the 787B was very a reliable car. Due to this reliability, Mazdaspeed arrived at Le Mans quietly optimistic about their chances.
In addition to being reliable the 787B enjoyed better fuel economy than the offerings from Porsche, Jaguar, and Mercedes. Team principal Takayoshi Ohashi abandoned his usual conservative strategy and instructed his drivers to race as if they were in a short sprint race. Mazdaspeed meant business at Le Mans 1991.
The #55 787B driven by Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler, and Bertrand Gachot started from 19th position and moved through the field as rival cars retired with mechanical problems. With six hours remaining and the #55 car in second place, the leading Mercedes C11 was forced into the pits with reliability issues. Johnny Herbert was driving at the time, and at the last pit stop demanded that he be allowed to stay in the driver’s seat. He completed the final 40 minute stint and brought home victory for Mazda. After his final pit stop, Herbert had taken off without having his drink bottle refilled. As a result, he was so dehydrated by the end of the race that he had to be helped out of the car and missed the podium because he was receiving medical attention. Gachot and Weidler were more than happy to celebrate in his stead. The #55 787B was immediately retired from racing and shipped back to Japan to be displayed at the Mazda museum in Hiroshima, where it lives to this day.
Posted @Whippstagram on Instagram, April 7th 2016.