The year was 1991. Ric Flair won the NWA/WCW championship, Seinfield made its TV debut, Bryan Addams was on the top of the Billboard 100, I started 4th grade, and most importantly Mazda made history by being the first Japanese manufacturer to win the 24 Hours Of LeMans with their 4-rotor powered 787B race car. Its been 20 years and a lot of things have changed since ’91. Ric Flair retired, Seinfield ended, Bryan Addams has been spoofed by a cartoon baby, and I finished college (mostly). However, one thing that hasn’t changed was Mazda’s accomplishment. They are still the only Japanese manufacturer to ever win LeMans and the 787B is the first and only rotary powered car to win the race (rotaries were banned after ’91).
To celebrate their 20 year standing accomplishment the organizers of the 24 hours of LeMans have invited Mazda to back to Circuit de la Sarthe for a special exhibition run, complete with members of the original 1991 team! Engineers at Mazda have completely restored the 787B to racing condition for the event on June 11th which will be photographed and recorded by Mazda and then uploaded for all the interwebs to see. And it will be quite a sight to see the ol’ 787B taking the corners of de la Sarthe again. I can’t wait! Until then I will just listen to another 4-rotor Mazda in action to hold me over.
- The Mazda 787B’s incredible 4-rotor engine noise will be heard again around the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 11, before the 24-hour race begins -
HIROSHIMA, Japan—2011 marks the 20th anniversary of Mazda’s victory in the world’s most demanding endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1991, Mazda became the first and only Japanese car manufacturer to win the race. In celebration of this anniversary, and at the invitation of the event organizers, the Automobile Club de L’Ouest (ACO), Mazda will demonstrate the winning Mazda 787B on the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France on Saturday, June 11, 2011, before the 24-hour race begins.The 79th 24-Hours of Le Mans is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (local time) on Saturday, June 11, 2011, and finish at the same time on the following day. Mazda plans to hold the demonstration of the 787B racecar on the Circuit de la Sarthe at 12:30 p.m. on June 11. Additionally, the 787B will also take part in the Driver’s Parade through the Le Mans city center on Friday June 10.
The Mazda 787B is the first and only Japanese car, and rotary-engine car, to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Jointly developed by Mazda and Mazdaspeed, the organization that managed Mazda’s racing program, the 787B has a chassis designed to meet Group C racing car technical regulations and is powered by a four-rotor rotary engine that produces 700 horsepower. Due to a change in the race regulations, 1991 was to become the last year that a rotary-engine car could participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At the last chance, after 17 years of effort, Mazda finally realized its long-held dream to take the overall victory at Le Mans. This victory was not Mazda’s alone, but the result of long years of hard work by Mazdaspeed, the drivers, suppliers and the many others involved.
Takashi Yamanouchi, Mazda’s representative director, chairman of the board, president and CEO, said, “Mazda is founded on a desire to ‘never stop challenging.’ This spirit brings Mazda Group employees together across the globe, and it inspires us to achieve the demanding goals we set ourselves. Exactly 50 years ago, in 1961, Mazda commenced development of the rotary engine. The road from this beginning until our 1991 victory at Le Mans, and on to our current SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY development program, is built upon our spirit of challenge. 2011 is set to be another landmark year for the entire Mazda Group, as we enter our SKYACTIV era with the global introduction of our next-generation vehicles.”
Since 1991, the winning Mazda 787B has mostly been on display at the Mazda Museum in Hiroshima, Japan. In preparation for the demonstration at Le Mans, Mazda has carefully restored the winning 787B racecar back to driving condition for the first time since its post-race overhaul in 1991. The work was carried out by current Mazda employees who participated in the company’s original Le Mans Challenge Project, along with engineers from Mazda’s subsidiary engineering company Mazda E&T. The restored 787B has been tested by one of Mazda’s in-house top gun drivers, and its performance has been confirmed by former Mazda factory drivers Yoshimi Katayama, Takashi Yorino and Yojiro Terada at Mazda’s Mine Proving Ground in western Japan.
As part of the 20th anniversary celebrations, various members of the 1991 Mazda team will also return to Le Mans. The winning driver Johnny Herbert (England) will be joined by 1991 Mazda drivers David Kennedy (Ireland), Pierre Dieudonné (Belgium) and other team members.
Video footage and photographs of the restoration work and the demonstration at Le Mans will be uploaded on Mazda’s official Facebook and YouTube web pages.
The Mazda Facebook page:
The Mazda Youtube channel: