The 30th anniversary of the Mazda 787B's triumph at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
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The 30th anniversary of the Mazda 787B's triumph at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

On 23 June 1991, Mazda won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the 787B and became the first Japanese manufacturer to win the race. Here's a look back at the car's legendary victory.

Well before Toyota's victories, Mazda became the first Japanese marque to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans thanks to the famous 787B. The Mazdaspeed team prototype had the distinction of being equipped with a rotary piston engine delivering 700 hp. Once again, the race proved the ideal testing ground for new technology.

In 1991, taking advantage of the transition between the Group C and Sport 3.5-liter atmospheric classes, Mazda fielded three 787Bs in the 24 Hours. The Japanese constructor took on three Sauber-Mercedes C11s, four Jaguar XJR-12s (direct successors to the Jag that won the race in 1990), two rookie Peugeot 905s and an armada of 15 Porsche 962s! The 787Bs proved to be efficient, reliable and fuel efficient. The #55 driven by Betrand Gachot, Johnny Herbert and Volker Weidler won the race ahead of two Jaguar XJR-12s. Barely extricated from his cockpit, Herbert (who had completed the final stint) was rushed dehydrated to the circuit infirmerary, missing the podium ceremony. In 2011, during the commemoration of Mazda's win, the British driver was able to drive the 787B once again, and also take the podium to make up for the first time around. Johnny Herbert: "We didn't realize straight away that we had a chance to win. Then, as we went along, we lengthened the stints while saving fuel, and we pulled it off." 

The Mazda 787B is a part of the permanent collection housed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans Museum, a gift from the Japanese marque in honor of its historic win. The authentic racing car is a chassis 04 painted fluorescent and graphically decorated like the 1991 winner. The car has presentation mechanics but is not operational, and is often sent across Europe as a tribute to the constructor's legendary win.