The 787B’s success at the 1991 Le Mans race weekend was a decade in the making. In 1967 Mazdaspeed started life as an independent motor racing team launched by one of Tokyo’s largest Mazda dealerships: Mazda Auto Tokyo. Run by the indefatigable Takayoshi Ohashi, the team first entered Le Mans in 1974 and returned 13 times over the next 18 years. In 1983 Mazdaspeed became a subsidiary of Mazda Motor Corporation, and by the end of the 1980s Takaharu Kobayakawa – programme manager of the Mazda RX-7 – was responsible for Mazda’s motorsports activities; he and Ohashi would oversee the Le Mans initiative.
A regulation change meant Mazdaspeed knew the rotary engine that powered the car would be banned for the following season. It was now or never for the 787B. Elsewhere, Ohashi scored a small, but critical, victory in securing an amendment from FISA (the motorsport governing body at the time) allowing the 787B to run in its standard configuration, while the competition was required to add ballast as part of a new regulation. Finally, in the no. 55 car the three hot-shot F1 drivers – Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler and Bertrand Gachot – gave Mazda hope that an overall win was possible.