25 years ago, the amazing Mazda 787B won Le Mans. Now listen to it | Top Gear
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Friday 29th September
Le Mans 2016

25 years ago, the amazing Mazda 787B won Le Mans. Now listen to it

One of the most glorious engine notes to have ever graced La Sarthe. Turn it up LOUD

  • 4pm, 23 June, 1991: the flag dropped on the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the car that shrieked across the finish line was the one you see in the pictures above. It was the Mazda 787B; the car that marked out Mazda as the first and only Japanese carmaker to have ever won the fabled 24-hour epic.

    Of course, as with literally every single Le Mans, victory wasn't assured. Following a gruelling 21-hour fight with Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar, and only three hours before the end, Johnny Herbert took the lead for the first time... and didn't surrender it until the end. Which meant that the 250,000 spectators at the event witnessed the rotary-engined monster cross the finish line.

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  • You want some numbers though, right? The R26B rotary engined pumped out over 700bhp at an ear-splitting 9,000rpm (honestly, you have to hear it to believe it - more on that in a tick) and ran absolutely faultlessly across 326 laps - which means flat out for 3,065 miles. Herbert, along with Volker Weidler and Bertrand Gachot, averaged a speed of 127.62mph over the 24 hours.

  • Three Mazdas raced in 1991 - two 787Bs and a 787 from 1990 - and all of them finished. Herbert's car in first place, obviously, the other two finishing sixth and eighth overall. No mean feat, considering that of the 38 cars entered in 1991, only nine others officially finished. 

    And how's this for reliability? Not only did it run without fault across 24 hours, but on a post-race inspection, Mazda's engineers reckoned the R26B was in good enough nick to manage another 24 hour race.

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  • The winning number 55 retired the next year, and went to live a model life in Mazda's Hiroshima museum. It's made fleeting appearances at events since, mind, including a particularly noisy one at Le Mans in 2011 for the 20th anniversary of the win.

    Which is all well and good telling you about it, but why not click on to the next slide to actually hear it in 2011, at Le Mans, in the hands of Johnny Herbert?

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    Says Mazda: "Such occasions [like 2011 at Le Mans] have been magnets for those longing to hear that distinct sound live, one more time or for the first time. It’s a sound that still resonates today with an almost cult-like following among racing and especially rotary fans around the world..."

    So, enough with the history, time for some NOISE. Turn it up loud, Internet.

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