The Mazda 787B, winner of the 1991 edition of Le Mans is the first Japanese car ever, and sadly the last, to win the 24 hours race. It has also competed in the Japan Sports Prototype Championship (JSPC) and the World Sportscar Championship in the same period. It was an innovative race car with a very particular powerplant and a great sound.
The 787B is powered by a 4 rotor (0.654 cc each) Wankel rotary engine, an engine that Mazda kept improving over the years unlike other automakers including Mercedes-Benz and Citroën who dropped the developpement of such an engine due to the costs of reducing its high emissions, consumption and lack of reliability at that time.
However, Mazda proved the opposite in 1991 by winning the prestigious 24 hours of Le Mans. Unfortunately, that was also the last time a "rotary" engine won the 24 hours race as they have been banned from participating until now. Luckily, Mazda still produces very reliable cars equiped with Wankel engines as an exeption to all constructors today.
The (limited to) 700 hp Wankel athmospheric engine allowed the car to have an extraordinary weight to power ratio with the curb weight barely exeeding 830 Kilograms. The engine was mounted to a 5 gear manual Porsche racing gearbox and fixed to a tibular chassis. Definitely a potential winning package, however the competition was rude including Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot and Jaguar.
An interesting feature about the 787B was its telescopic intake pipes whose variable length was electronically controlled by electric motors through the engine management system. At lower engine speeds, a maximum length of the pipes is needed, while at higher speeds the pipes become shorter. It was a clever way to gain in terms of reliability.
The reliability of Mazda's R26B engine was rewarded by a prestigious victory at Le Mans in 1991. However, at shorter races (wether it was the JSPC or the World Sportscar Championship) it was a different story as prototypes from Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Jaguar were faster on a single lap. As a result the Mazda prototype did not perform the same way it did in the French race. But, it remains to this day as a racing legend.