Debut of the Mazda 787b
Enter the 787. At its heart, it carried over many of the technical elements used on the 767B. Nigel Stroud made some modifications to the 767 platform keeping in mind a team goal of achieving maximum reliability without sacrificing pace. He designed the new monocoque using a carbon and Kevlar construction, and clad it in a body of the same material. The cooling system was revised to a single radiator set up, integrated in the nose of the car, allowing airflow to pass under the bodywork and up through the radiator before exiting at the top of the nose in front of the cockpit windshield. This was an efficient use of ‘dirty’ air as it created more downforce when the air travelled over the cockpit at speed. Downforce was further increased with the addition of a flap at the exit of the radiator. This particular improvement facilitated the redesign of the door geometry. Gone were the big, drag inducing radiator ports along the side of the car, making way for a smoother streamlined surface ideal for the high speed Le Mans circuit. Additional cooling intakes were placed on the exterior of the car to cope with the high temperatures generated from their new powerplant, the R26B four rotor engine. The layout and displacement of the new engine was almost identical to its 13J predecessor, but the new design included elements like a continuous variable trumpet intake system, and three spark plugs per rotor.
Mazdaspeed was not interested in playing for the Sportscar World Championship of 1990, their car was optimized with a singular goal in mind of claiming victory at La Sarthe mid season. The 787 chassis debuted in the second round of the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship at Fuji. Shortly after the event, Mazdaspeed departed for Europe to begin preparation for Le Mans, completing nearly 5000 testing kilometers honing the cars fuel efficiency and aerodynamic performance. Former Le Mans king Jacky Ickx was hired by Mazdaspeed to help prepare the two 787s for the race. Both tensions and expectations were high in the Mazda camp, as they knew this was the last chance for their rotary powered car to make a bid for the prestigious race before the engine was outlawed via incoming regulation changes.
After a qualifying run that placed the pair of 787 cars in 22nd and 23rd spot, the race was playing out in promising fashion. By the early hours of the morning, the No.201 entry of Kennedy, Dieudonne and Johansson found themselves leading the GTP class, but an oil leak forced the team to retire shortly after discovery. Not two hours later, the remaining 787 was also relegated to the garage for good after an electrical failure caused a fire. The disappointment was three fold, as this was seemingly not only their last legitimate chance to challenge before the FIA rule changes took effect, but their best effort to date and they still came up short. At this point, Mazda was could be haphazardly lumped into the same category as Toyota and Nissan as mediocre Japanese efforts at trying to beat the Europeans at their own game. Their Le Mans performance did not suggest that they might be able to upset the status quo.