The year was 1991. The team of Volker Weidler, Johnny Herbert, and Bertrand Gachot hadn't the faintest clue that they would be making history come the end of the race.
Mazda and its impressive 'Orange and Green' 787b race car would go on to claim the prestigious honour of being the only Japanese manufacturer to win the 24 Hour of Le Mans. At the time, it was the only winning car not using a reciprocating engine design, a record likely to never have been repeated due to regulation changes. Toyota was to usurp them with consecutive wins in 2018 and 2019.
All hail the rotary
The naturally-aspirated 2.6-litres quad-rotary engine used in the 787b was likened to that of a Formula 1 car with its high-revving ability able to scream all the way through to 10 500rpm. Power stood at 520kW and 607Nm and combined with its Kevlar/carbon fibre composite body construction and 850kg weight, culminated in a near-perfect power to weight ratio.
The last Mazda to ever grace the heralded rotary engine was the RX-8. Mazdaspeed no longer had any attachment to its once fruitful tuning 'lovechild'.
Toyota, be thankful
Toyota, in a sense, has Mazda to thank for laying down a foundation that hadn't yet been built on. The German automakers in the form of Porsche and Audi had always claimed a spot on the podium and it was high time that someone else stood up to them.
With automakers now putting all their time, effort, and expertise on building emission-free and safer cars, there will unfortunately never be another rotary engine in the pipeline. The 787b was one of a kind and will never be replicated again.