Report: Mazda Engineer Behind 787B, New Miata Wants Le Mans Return

Mazda 787B 03

Mazda’s one and only win at Le Mans came in 1991. Now, nearly 25 years later, the zoom-zoom brand may be considering a comeback. Nobuhiro Yamamoto, the engineer behind the Le Mans-winning rotary-powered 787B prototype as well as the new 2016 MX-5 Miata road car, told Top Gear that he can “imagine a day when Mazda returns” to Le Mans. “I understand the expectation from our customers, and indeed the rotary engine fans,” Yamamoto told Top Gear during this past weekend’s Goodwood Festival of Speed. “I know that the expectation for us to return to Le Mans is high. I can imagine a day when Mazda returns, yes. I hope we do.” With Audi, Porsche, Toyota, and Nissan currently dumping millions of dollars into their LMP1 programs, a return to Le Mans is not a decision Mazda will make lightly. We don’t know if Mazda has the will — or the finances — to tango with the top teams, but if Mazda does launch a Le Mans car, it sounds like Yamamoto wants it to have a rotary engine.

Mazda 787B Front Three Quarters View

“I am a rotary racing engineer,” Yamamoto said. “That is my background. That’s very important. I hope — as with many other Mazda fans — that we go back to Le Mans.” But Mazda’s on-again, off-again RX-7 sports car successor has faced perpetual delays, and a high-performance rotary engine doesn’t seem to fit in with Mazda’s efficiency-focused Skyactiv image. However, a rotary engine was used a few years ago as a range-extender in a hybrid Mazda2 prototype, and a version of that drivetrain is said to be planned for production. It’s possible Mazda could apply elements of that system to a rotary hybrid Le Mans racer. Another automaker that’s rumored to be considering a return to Le Mans is BMW, possibly with a hydrogen-powered car entered into the experimental Garage 56 class. With the top class dominated by high-rolling manufacturers, perhaps Mazda has its sights set on that same, less crowded category. When Nissan first entered the wild DeltaWing at Le Mans, it did so in Garage 56. Whatever Mazda’s plans, we know we’d absolutely love to see the brand return to Le Mans. Here’s hoping Yamamoto-san isn’t the only one at Mazda with that dream.

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