Test Drive Tuesday review #27: 1990 Mazda 787
1990 produced some of the most iconic endurance racers of all time: Jaguar XJR-12, Porsche 962C, Nissan R90CK, and a new Mazda entry, the 787. These group C cars were known for their brutal speed and good use of underbody aerodynamics, getting them around the Le Mans track at scary speeds. One Nissan was caught doing 227mph during qualifying that year, and yes two chicanes already broke the Mulsanne straight at the time.
To answer the criticism their rotary engine was facing at the time, Mazda set about proving its worthiness by winning the 24 hours of Le Mans. In 1990, they introduced the second iteration of their four-rotor engine, the R26B. Producing around 900hp in qualifying, it was detuned over reliability concerns to 700hp for the race. This didn’t prove to be enough for the 1990 entry, as neither of the two 787 finished the race due to engine overheating after the night. But after some modification, the Renown-liveried 787B won the 1991 race and became the only Japanese entry to win Le Mans to date, and obviously the only rotary-powered car to ever win the 24 hours race.
And of course the most notable thing about this car is its engine. The angry, loud shriek is one unforgettable noise. But there’s more. Although in 700hp race trim, the R26B stays immensely powerful for the lightweight racecar. One thing I didn’t expect is how usable the power band is: I thought this was going to be a very peaky engine, only working properly at the highest rpms. It isn’t the case. Yes, there are more torquey engines out there, and the Jaguar V12 of its contemporary competitors probably put it to shame on that respect. But it still pulls strong from 5,000rmps, which is remarkable. And useful, because there are only five gears.
But from a pure driving standpoint, the engine isn’t the most impressive thing about this car; the downforce is. When you look at the 787, and at other group C cars of this era, you don’t think it is very advanced aerodynamically. But this blunt looks hide a secret of these cars: massive use of ground effects. While the visible parts of the car are sleek to the extreme, the underbody are deeply worked around the diffuser. And when you take it to the high speeds the Mazda loves, it works wonders. The car really feels sucked to the ground, and the cornering speeds are unbelievable for a car that’s 25 years old. It’s not like the Lotus 88 either: the car works perfectly well when not going fast enough for the downforce to become dominant. Yes the rear-end can be a bit characterful, especially under braking. But other than that, it remains a pretty approachable and predictable car, if you remember to ease off the brakes when decelerating under 3rd gear. Which is impressive considering how fast it is. It is well balanced and just challenging enough not to be boring.
To drive, it is everything you can expect from a racecar of this era, and then some. The car reacts quickly, maybe bluntly to everything you do. But it’s never twitchy, and never unexpected. It’s never telling you to drive it in a smoother manner. The 787 is a car that wants you to go hard with it. And fast.
Overall a great car, and also the fastest prototype of Simraceway, which is noteworthy considering the opposition it’s facing.
To find out how it did against all the other TDT cars, follow this link to the TDT Leaderboards: https://goo.gl/ATr6mF