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After two-year restoration, Mazda’s 767B returns to the track at Laguna Seca

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Mazda 767B. Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations.

For Mazda, the path to a rotary-powered prototype-class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans was a long one, stretching from 1983 (and the 717C) to 1991, when the 787B delivered a decisive victory for the Japanese brand. Along the development path, one unsung hero was the 767/767B, which ran at Le Mans from 1988 through 1990. Following a two-year restoration effort, the 767B owned by Mazda North American Operations (MNAO) will return to the track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, as part of the August 18-21 Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion.

Introduced as the evolution of Mazda’s 757 prototype race car, the 767, first raced in 1988, initially featured a 600-horsepower, 2.6-liter, four-rotor 13J engine, a notable upgrade from the 450-horsepower, 2.0-liter, three-rotor 13G engine used in the earlier car. Campaigning the 767 in both the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship and in the World Sports Prototype Championship, Mazda finished fourth in the constructor’s championship but managed just 17th and 19th place finishes with a pair of 767s at Le Mans. Both cars were outperformed by Mazdaspeed’s other entry, a 757 that finished in 15th place overall.

Mazda returned to the track in 1989 with the latest evolution of the 767, dubbed the 767B. Though the results of a two-car effort throughout the season were mixed, both Mazdaspeed 767B team cars performed well at Le Mans, with chassis 767B-001 finishing seventh overall and first in the GTP class. Chassis 767B-002, the car now owned by MNAO, finished ninth overall and second in class, driven by a trio of racers that included American Elliott Forbes-Robinson. Both 767Bs beat the third Mazdaspeed entry, a 1988 season 767, giving perhaps the clearest sign that Mazda was on the right track.

Mazdaspeed continued to campaign the 767Bs into the 1990 season, even after the introduction of the more-powerful 787. Chassis 767B-001 was raced at Le Mans in 1990, finishing in 20th place but first in the GTP class, as neither of the 787s entered finished the race. Chassis 767B-002 ran its last in-period race on March 11, 1990, finishing ninth overall but first in the GTP class at the Fuji 500 Kilometer.

Restoration on chassis 767B-002 was carried out by Downing/Atlanta, the same shop that previously handled the rebirth of MNAO’s 787, RX-7 IMSA GTO and RX-792P racing cars. Stripped to its bare tub, the 767B was rebuilt under the guidance of Jim Downing and Rick Engman, who also supervised the reconstruction of the car’s 630-horsepower 13J rotary engine.

Of the importance of showing off its former racing cars, MNAO president and CEO Masahiro Moro said, “Mazda has a never give up attitude and it is exemplified in the 767B. The race track is the perfect environment to showcase our history of continuous innovation. We use our historic race cars, not as static reminders of the past, but rolling, screaming, fire-breathing brand ambassadors for the future.”

The restored 767B will be driven on track by Ken Saward, a design manager at MNAO with experience in endurance racing and in Spec Miata.