Mazda 787B

Mazda 787B
Mazda 787
Mazda 787B
Mazda 787B at the Mazda Museum.
Category Group C/IMSA GTP
Constructor Mazda
Advanced Composite Technology
Designer(s) Nigel Stroud
Technical specifications
Chassis Kevlar and carbon composite monocoque
Suspension (front) Double wishbone pullrod operated inboard Bilstein spring dampers.
Suspension (rear) Double wishbone top rocker-operated inboard spring dampers.
Axle track 1530/1450 mm (787)
1534/1504 mm (787B)
Wheelbase 2640 mm (787)
2662 mm (787B)
Engine Mazda R26B 2616 cc 4-rotor naturally aspirated. Mid-engined, longitudinally mounted.
Transmission Mazda/Porsche 5-speed manual
Weight 830 kg (1831 lb)
Fuel Idemitsu
Tyres Dunlop 300-640x18/355-710x18 (275-620x17/330-700x17)
Competition history
Notable entrants Japan Mazdaspeed
Notable drivers Belgium Pierre Dieudonné
Belgium Bertrand Gachot
United Kingdom Johnny Herbert
Sweden Stefan Johansson
Japan Yoshimi Katayama
Republic of Ireland Dave Kennedy
Japan Tetsuya Ota
Brazil Maurizio Sandro-Sala
Japan Yojiro Terada
Germany Volker Weidler
Japan Takashi Yorino
Debut 1990 1000 km of Fuji (787)
1991 430 km of Suzuka (787B)
Races Wins Poles Fastest laps
21 1 0 0
Constructors' Championships 0
Drivers' Championships 0
Mazda 787B at the Monterey Historic Races 2004.

The Mazda 787 and its derivative 787B were Group C sports prototype racing cars built by Mazda for use in the World Sportscar Championship, All Japan Sports Prototype Championship, as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1990 to 1991. Designed to combine a mixture of the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) Group C regulations with the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) GTP regulations, the 787s were the last Wankel rotary-powered racing cars to compete in the World and Japanese championships, using Mazda's R26B engine.

Although the 787 and 787B lacked the single lap pace of World Championship competitors such as Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, and Porsche, as well Japanese Championship competitors Nissan and Toyota, the Mazdas had reliability which allowed them to contend for their respective championships. The reliability of the cars eventually paid off in 1991 when a 787B driven by Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler, and Bertrand Gachot went on to victory in the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans. This remains as of 2011 the only victory by a Japanese marque as well as the only victory by a car not using a reciprocating engine design.

A total of two 787s were constructed in 1990, while three newer specification 787Bs were built in 1991.[1]



At its heart, the initial design of the 787 was an evolution of the 767 and 767B designs that had been used by Mazda in 1988 and 1989. Many mechanical elements of the 767 were carried over by Nigel Stroud when he designed the 787,[2] but with some notable exceptions. Foremost was the replacement of the 767's 13J Wankel rotary engine. In its place, the brand new R26B was installed. The custom-built R26B featured a nearly identical layout and displacement, but included new design elements such as continuously variable intakes and three spark plugs per rotor instead of the 20B's two. This allowed for a maximum power output of 900 hp (670 kW) which was limited to 700 hp during the race for longevity. Porsche's five-speed gearbox was retained.

Other modifications made to the 787's design included a relocation of the radiators. Initially placed beside the cockpit on the 767, a new single radiator was integrated into the nose of the 787. Air would flow from the blunt nose of the car, underneath the bodywork and through the radiator, before exiting at the top of the nose. A Gurney flap was affixed to the radiator exit to increase front end downforce. This new radiator location also meant a redesign of the doors of the car, where the old radiator design had been located. The intake in front of the door and exit behind were no longer necessary and were thus not included, giving the 787 a smoother bodywork design on top. To aid in rear engine and brake cooling, intakes were placed on the side bodywork, immediately above the exhaust cooling vents.

As before, Stroud's monocoque design was built from carbon and kevlar by Advanced Composite Technology in the United Kingdom. Carbon fiber body panels were affixed to the two initial chassis that were built in 1990.


Following the 1990 season, Mazda continued development of the 787 chassis in order to make improvements on its pace and reliability. One major development was the intake system for the rotaries. In the past, Mazda had developed variable length telescopic intake runners to optimize engine power and torque for varying rpms. For 1991, the system became continuously variable, rather than previous versions that had steps for different engine ranges. The 787B's onboard ECU controlled the action of the telescopic intake.

Three new 787Bs were built for 1991, while the two existing 787s were also upgraded with the new intakes.

Racing history


The first 787 chassis made its competition debut in April 1990, at the second round of the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship (JSPC) season. For the Inter Challenge Fuji 1000 km, Mazdaspeed entered their 787 alongside an older 767B chassis, with Yoshimi Katayama, Dave Kennedy, and Pierre Dieudonné in the new car. After Fuji, the second 787 chassis was completed, and the team departed for Europe to prepare for Le Mans. Tests were performed at the Silverstone Circuit in Great Britain and Autódromo do Estoril in Portugal to prepare the car's setups and test its endurance. A total of 2,900 miles (4,700 km) were completed over the tests.[3]

Former Le Mans-winner Jacky Ickx was hired by Mazdaspeed in order to prepare the two 787s, as well as an older 767B, for the race. Driver Stefan Johansson joined Kennedy and Dieudonné in the first car, while Bertrand Gachot, Volker Weidler, and Johnny Herbert were hired for the second entry. The all-Japanese line-up of Katayama, Yojiro Terada, and Takashi Yorino remained in the 767B. For qualifying the new 787s outpaced the older 767B, setting the 22nd and 23rd fastest lap times, ahead of the 767B's 34th fastest time.

The two 787s ran reliably for much of the race, lasting through the night until problems were encountered in the early hours of Sunday morning. While leading their GTP class, an oil leak on the #201 entry for Kennedy, Dieudonné, and Johansson forced the team to retire the car. Two hours later, the #202 787 was also retired after an electrical failure and fire.[3] Heat from the 787's R26B powerplant would be blamed as the cause behind both failures.[4] The sole remaining 767B, the only car remaining in its class, survived until the end of the race and earned a 20th place finish.

Following Le Mans, Mazdaspeed fully retired the remaining 767B from competition. Two 787s would be entered for the rest of the JSPC season, with the Japanese trio of drivers in one entry, and Kennedy and Dieudonné remaining in the other. Returning to Fuji, the 787s earned fifth and tenth place finishes in a 500 km event, although the fifth place finisher would later be disqualified due to a Fuel Cell which was too large. Tenth place would again be earned at the 1000 km of Suzuka, although the all-Japanese entry retired after an engine failure. A similar result occurred at Sugo, except it was the Japanese squad which finished eleventh while the international squad had an engine failure.

To close out the season, Mazdaspeed brought a 767B out of retirement, and entered it alongside the two 787s for the final 1000 km of Fuji. The 767B was the victor of the trio, earning a sixth place finish ahead of a 787's seventh. Once again, the other 787 retired following a transmission failure. Mazdaspeed's Yoshimi Katayama earned 25th in the Driver's Championship, while Mazda itself earned fourth in the Constructor's Championship.


For the 1991 season, Mazda expanded their efforts with the 787. Two cars were assigned to the JSPC series, while a third car ran the full Sportscar World Championship season for the first time, with drivers Dave Kennedy, Maurizio Sandro-Sala, and Pierre Dieudonné assigned to the team. The French Oreca team were put in charge of the World Championship campaign. Oreca and team consultant Jacky Ickx were able to presuade FISA that the 787s should be allowed to run with less weight than their competitors, leading to FISA allowing the team to run the cars at 830 kg (1,830 lb) rather than the standard 1,000 kg (2,205 lb) required for the C2 class.[5]

Unlike the JSPC series, FISA had begun to integrate regulations for a new engine formula in the World Championship which required all teams to use 3500 cc engines by 1992. Cars which met these regulations in 1991 became the top C1 class, while cars with other engines, including the 787, were reclassified as C2. The C2 class cars also retained the fuel consumption formula that Group C had been founded on, while C1 cars no longer required it. This meant that Mazda now had to fight for class wins within their new class. In the JSPC however, Mazda's 787s remained in the GTP class, as the sole competitors in the category.

The year started in Japan, with Mazdaspeed entering two older 787s while the new 787Bs were being finalized. Both cars suffered problems and were uncompetitive. Attention then turned to the Suzuka Circuit, where the debut race of the World Championship season was being run. The first new 787B chassis arrived alongside an older 787. The newer car, with Sandro-Sala and Kennedy, outqualified the older chassis driven by the all Japanese squad by only an eighth of a second, but the 787B was able to outlast several other competitors and finish in sixth overall, fourth in the C2 class, and earning Mazda points in the championship.

The 787B-003 (#202 in the JSPC) was built after the 1991 Le Mans. After a while, the chassis was remodeled for the short distance and the headlamps were removed for lightening.

The 787B was retained in Japan while the European squad turned to Monza with an older 787. Yojiro Terada and Takashi Yorino earned the new 787B another sixth place finish at the 1000 km of Fuji, while the European team finished seventh at Monza on the same day. A poor race at Silverstone added no points to Mazda's World Championship total before the team concentrated on Le Mans.

Following the team's Le Mans victory, Mazdaspeed returned to Fuji once more with a 787B, and improved their season results with a fourth place finish followed by another sixth at Suzuka A third 787B was completed by October, and the two cars finished in third and fourth places at the second 1000 km of Fuji. To end the season, the team finished in sixth at Sportsland SUGO, earning Mazda fourth in the Consturctors' Championship, and Takashi Yorino fourteenth in the Drivers' Championship.

The European squad meanwhile continued to use the older 787, finishing in fifth at the Nürburgring and seventh at Magny-Cours. The Championship then flew to Mexico City where Mazda finished ninth, before the season ended back in Japan. The two 787Bs of the Japanese squad replaced the older 787, and the two cars finished in ninth and tenth places. Mazdaspeed finished fifth in the Teams' Championship, and Maurizio Sandro-Sala earned fifteenth place in the Drivers' Championship.

24 Hours of Le Mans

The 59th 24 Hours of Le Mans which was round 4 of the World Sportscar Championship was the first time the race took place at the entirely new pit complex much to the pleasure of pit crews and drivers, after several years of having to use the notoriously cramped area, which became associated with the film of the same name.

Mazdaspeed entered three cars and a spare, one of them was a 787 from the previous year, numbered #56, driven by Dieudonné, Yorino and Terada and two brand new 787B's. One of them was driven by Maurizio Sandro Sala who replaced the newly retired Katayama, Johansson and Kennedy numbered #18 (001) and the #55 (002) car of Weidler, Herbert and Gachot making its only appearance in its only race.

Unlike the other two cars which were painted in their standard blue stripes on white livery, #55 had an outrageous bright orange and green scheme in honour of a main sponsor, Renown, a Japanese clothing manufacturer who had been supporting the team since 1988 by providing all their clothing for the events.

The spare car was another 787 from the previous year and also qualified, but took no further part in the event.

Mazda was not the favorite to win, but the three Mazdas started on 19th (#55), 23rd (#18) and 30th (#56), despite being the 12th, 17th and 24th fastest qualifiers respectively. The new 3.5 litre cars were given the first grid positions, moving everyone else back by seven places. On the day before the race, team manager Ohashi decided to drop his usual conservative strategy and instructed the drivers of the #55 car to drive as if it were a short sprint race.

The decision was made based on the reliability of the cars demonstrated in the Paul Ricard tests, as well as the car's exceptional fuel economy, which meant that the carefully learned driving techniques intended to preserve the fuel allowance were no longer a critical part of the team's strategy.

In the early stages of the race, the #55 car made its way to third place with the #18 car behind it 2 laps down. The #18 had a lower gear ratio setup meaning the car used less fuel but was 20 km/h (12 mph) slower. The #55 would by night, move into second place when the Mercedes-Benz C11 of Michael Schumacher, Fritz Kreutzpointner and Karl Wendlinger spun off and later pitted with a gearbox problem. It soon became obvious that the leading car had slowed down to preserve its fuel allowance and an air of disbelief spread around the Mazda pit as it became obvious with six hours to run that there was a chance of victory.

At the 22nd hour, fate took a hand and the #55 car finally took the lead after the C11 of Alain Ferte was forced to pit with mechanical problems. At the last pit-stop, Herbert asked to stay in the car, and went on to take the 787B across the finish line first, completing 362 laps and covering 4932.2 km ( both new records for the recently modified circuit ). The two other cars finished sixth (#18) and eighth (#56). Three Jaguar XJR-12s and a sole Mercedes filled out positions two through five.

Herbert was so dehydrated that he had to be assisted out of the car and taken to the circuit's medical centre. As a result, he was unable to make it to the podium, leaving Weidler and Gatchot to take up the celebrations. He later commented in a magazine interview that some “dodgy” spaghetti he ate before his shift was the cause, but it is more likely that his drink bottle wasn't replenished when he chose to stay in the car for the remaining 40 minutes of the race. The replacement driver would normally carry his own bottle into the car during a changeover as they all had their own preferred drinks.

The winning car ran without a hitch apart from a blown headlamp bulb and a precautionary rear wheel bearing change on the driver's side of the car, when a regular check during a pit-stop showed it to be overheating slightly.[5]

It seems logical that the secret behind the win was Mazda's commitment to and refinement of the same basic engine/chassis concept, including the drivers – whilst rivals Nissan and Toyota spent the era adopting and dropping new concepts, suppliers, engine configurations, drivers, and even teams.[2]

Life after Le Mans

Mazda 787B on display at Le Mans 2011 24 hour race

After Le Mans, the winning car (787B-002) retired from duty while the other two cars (787B-001 and new 787B-003) continued to race. Mazda would go on to finish 4th and 5th in the Japanese and World championship respectively, with a season high (besides Le Mans) 3rd in the 1000 km Fuji race (a JSPC race). As Mazda used different drivers throughout the season, none of their drivers finished in the top 10 in points.

At the end of the season, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) outlawed the use of Wankel-type rotary engines as a way to sway teams to the 3.5L Formula One (F1) engines that had become their preferred platform. The 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans would be the last time the 787B would compete in international motor racing, and the last win for a car with Dunlop tires. The following year, Mazda entered the MXR-01, based on the Jaguar XJR-14 and powered by a Judd unit, without much success (placed 4th at Le Mans 1992).

Despite the success of the 787B and its Wankel powerplant, Mazda did not exploit its historic victory through marketing campaigns and advertising. However, it partially improved sales for Mazda's road cars. In the United Kingdom, Mazda would release a special edition of its MX-5 with the racing color and also a BBR (Brodie Brittain Racing) turbo conversion; the car is one of the most sought after special edition cars of its model. Long a proponent of the rotary engine, Mazda has maintained a rotary-engined road car for many years, though sales of the Mazda RX-7 were stopped in most U.S. states in 1996 (and in Japan in 2002) until release of the 2003 Mazda RX-8. The Mazda RX-8 utilized a new generation of the Mazda Wankel engine, dubbed "Renesis" which uses side intake and exhaust ports.

Of the winning drivers, Herbert would have a successful career in Formula One, notching up three wins before leaving the championship in 2000 and returning to sportscar racing. Gachot would go on to drive at Jordan Grand Prix before being given an eighteen months prison sentence in August for a CS gas attack on a taxi driver in London; his place for the Belgian Grand Prix was famously filled by newcomer Michael Schumacher. He was finally released after two months and had minor successes before retiring altogether. Weidler would compete in the Japanese Formula 3000 championship, only to have his career cut short when he was diagnosed with tinnitus. It was recommended he should take time off to allow for an operation but he chose to retire from the sport and handed his seat over to Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Of the non-winning drivers, Dieudonné would later hang up his helmet and become sporting director at Oreca, this time backed by Chrysler to help the Dodge Viper to score class wins at Le Mans by the late nineties and an overall win at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2000. Terada, a veteran of the race since 1974, continued to run his Autoexe tuning business. He still competed at Le Mans, although without factory backing but showing no signs of retiring. The former F1 driver, Johansson, would return to IndyCar duties frequently competing in the race before returning full time.

The R26B engine would be used by Mazda in its Mazda RX-792P for its premier IMSA GTP category with limited success. The engine continued to be used in the GTS category, for the spaceframe FD3S RX-7 which would return to Le Mans in 1994, backed by Mazdaspeed. The livery would return again in 1995, when a rotary powered Kudzu, which was competing in IMSA’s WSC (World Sport Car), a category with different regulations than the FIA. This time they would start the race without the Renown sponsorship and in 1996 in the lower end LMP2 category which was the last time Mazda used the livery. Mazdaspeed would continue to compete in the race until 1999.[6][7]

There are however many series that are not under the governance of the FIA, most notably Le Mans and the American Le Mans (ALMS) and Le Mans Endurance (LMES) series. B-K Motorsport competed a Courage C65 LMP2 prototype in ALMS in 2005, powered by a Mazda tri-rotary; and painted in a yellow and blue version of the livery worn by the 787B.

Today the car is considered by Mazda and Rotary enthusiasts as one of the most iconic cars to come from Japan despite its non-Japanese origin.[clarification needed] The 787B have been celebrated by every major toy and model company in and outside Japan. The 787B is considered as the most popular of the Group C cars and has appeared in several video games. Throughout the Gran Turismo series, the color scheme can be seen as a fictitious compilation of various Mazda paint schemes. In 2005, a factory-backed RX-8 used the Renown colors to compete in a 24 hour race at Silverstone.[8]

Mazda keeps the winning car at the Mazda Museum in Hiroshima. At the same time, Mazda produced four replicas and gave one of them to the Le Mans Museum. The car usually makes appearances at the annual Sevenstock shows, and has made two appearances at the Monterey Historics event in 1999 and 2004 and still bears a pair of small oval racing stickers behind the side windows, referring to its appearance at the 1999 Goodwood Festival of Speed, when it was reunited and driven by Gachot. The car also made an appearance at the Mazda Festa in Japan and crashed, denting the wing and damaging the tail lights.

After completing a lengthy restoration, the winning #55 787B was demonstrated during the pre-race of the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans. Winning driver Johnny Herbert took the 787B around the Circuit de La Sarthe for a demonstration lap.


1990 787 specification are in brackets.


  • Body construction: Kevlar/carbonfibre composite
  • Wheels: 18 in x 12 in front/18 in x 14.75 in rear Volk Racing Magnesium Alloy (17 in x 12 in front/17 in x 14.75 in rear)
  • Brakes: Carbon Industries outboard ventilated 14-inch (360 mm) carbon discs and calipers (Brembo steel)
  • Lighting: 2 Cibie headlights on each side
  • Weight: c. 850 kg


  • Spark plugs: 3 per rotor
  • Rotors: 4
  • Fuel system: Nippon Denso electronic fuel injection
  • Battery: Pulsar
  • Maximum Power: 700 hp (520 kW)/9000 rpm
  • Maximum Torque: 448 ft·lbf (607 N·m)/6500 rpm
  • Instrumentation and Telemetry System by Pi Research

From the Mazda Motor Museum website, it claims the engine has a maximum output of 930 hp (690 kW), and a maximum redline of 10,500rpm. This setup was not used during racing for worries associated with reliability.

References and notes

  1. ^ "Mazda Chassis Numbers". World Sports Prototype Racing. Retrieved 2008-03-29. [dead link]
  2. ^ a b Ian Briggs. (1991), Endurance Racing 1981-1991: Osprey Automotive. ISBN 1-85532-228-5
  3. ^ a b Christian Moity & Jean-Marc Teissedre. (2004), 1990 Le Mans 24 Hours :Autotechnica. ISBN 0951284037
  4. ^ on Mazda 787B[dead link]
  5. ^ a b (May 2000), Le Mans Series and Sportscar Racer: Haymarket Publishing.
  6. ^ 1995 Autosport Le Mans supplement
  7. ^ 1996 Autosport Le Mans supplement
  8. ^ Mazda RX-8 24hr Endurance Race - 4Car Gallery from Channel 4[dead link]

External links

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