WATCH | The Mazda 787b is where it all started for Japan in Le Mans and will be known as a legend forever

<i>Image: Twitter</i>
<i>Image: Twitter</i>

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.

READ | Ford pays homage to 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours with celebration liveries

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.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
Do you think Lewis Hamilton deserves to be knighted by the Queen?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes, he is an incredible athlete
31% - 38 votes
No, he hasn't done anything special
20% - 25 votes
He is good, but doesn't deserve the honour
49% - 61 votes
Vote