To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Le Mans 24 hour endurance race, the only winner with a rotary engine has been invited back for a track demonstration. Organizers Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) asked Mazda to join the festivities along with around 70 winning cars from previous years. There will be an exhibition at the Le Mans Museum from June 1 to July 2.
Usually kept at Mazda’s HQ in Hiroshima, 787B chassis 002 has been meticulously preserved and kept in good working order. The 1991 race marked over two decades of Le Mans entries for Mazda before it was crowned the first Japanese manufacturer to win the epic endurance event. This was the last opportunity for a rotary-engined vehicle to win, as this engine type was banned from 1992.
The 1991 race was, thankfully, fairly uneventful for 787B, which covered 362 laps in 24 hours with 28 pit stops. Only one oil top up was required along with new brake discs, pads and a new nose. After starting 23rd on the grid, a strong start and consistent overnight stint meant the Mazda team edged into the top ten and held second place until the front runner retired with engine problems.
The 700bhp four-rotor engine gave the 787B a distinct soundtrack but it also triumphed as the first car to win Le Mans with carbon brakes, showing off its impressive engineering all round. At the Centenary event the 787B will be driven by 29-time Le Mans competitor Yojiro Terada, who finished 8th in the 1991 race in the sister Mazda 787.
Still pushing ahead with rotary engines, Mazda will display its MX-30 R-EV which uses rotary technology as an electric generator, paving the way for the next generation of Mazda’s rotary legacy. The Mazda 787B will also make an appearance at this year’s Le Mans Classic from June 30 to July 2.