As Le Mans triumphs go, Mazda’s success in 1991 must surely go down as one of the most popular ever. No Japanese car, nor any car not using a conventional reciprocating piston engine has won before or since …
The 787B’s distinctive sound comes of course from the fact that it’s engine is of a ‘rotary’ design – in that radial cylinders rotate around a fixed crankshaft as opposed to a rotating crankshaft with individual pistons attached to it. As the 1991 race wore on the high-pitched scream was heard by the crowd more often than all the others, although at the outset this seemed extremely unlikely.
Going into the race the lead 787B was sitting in 12th place on the grid. Entries from Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot and the ubiquitous Porsche 962 had been lapping consistently faster than the Mazda in practice and qualifying and it was from this group that the winner was most likely to emerge. However, one by one, each of the fancied protagonists encountered issues which either slowed them down or stopped them altogether. Throughout all this the reliable Mazda just kept on going and eventually recorded an epic victory.
Here we see Johnny Herbert reacquainting himself with that very car at Le Mans, 20 years since he, Bertrand Gachot and Volker Weidler steered it home for the win. At the Festival of Speed this very car will be running up the hill and it would surprise us little if it turned out to be one of the stars of the show.