Video: Onboard the Incredible Mazda 787B

Fitted with a 2.6-liter R26B motor, the 787B remains the only rotary-powered machine to win at Le Mans, and when the engine is taken into consideration, it’s not hard to see why. Capable of 700 horsepower for the entire 24 hours, this monster was no slouch and it’s even more impressive that had Mazda elected to raise the rev limit, as much as 900 horses could be had from the diminutive Wankel motor.

However, this car being designed for endurance racing had to last long periods of times, so some considerations for reliability had to be made — fuel economy primarily dictating this move.

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The Mazda’s green and orange paint scheme is as recognizable as its engine note.

The rotary motor was compact and light, weighing only 180 kg and thereby aiding the handling of the car. In addition, it was also volumetrically efficient. Producing 358 horsepower per liter is something approached only by Formula One cars, which produce the only kind of engine note that one would confuse with this. However, rotaries run hot, and they’re not known to be the most fuel efficient — often using lots of fuel to cool the internals.

Often, people like to cite that the rotary was so good, it was banned after 1991, which isn’t true whatsoever. In fact, the rules for 1992 allowed for 3.5-liter, normally-aspirated engines to compete. This new formula rendered the older engines, including the Wankel, as obsolete. The R26B was never made illegal, in fact, it returned to Le Mans, albeit with limited success. Nonetheless, its outright performance and success despite an unconventional approach made the 787B a modern classic.

About the author

Tommy Parry

Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, he worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school, and tried his hand on the race track on his 20th birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, Tommy began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a track day instructor and automotive writer since 2012, and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans, and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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