A lasting impression
Want to know what the Mazda sounds like? Just ask its Le Mans-winning pilot Johnny Herbert
Mazda might be protective of its Le Mans winner, but that didn’t stop Johnny Herbert rediscovering its limits with a 20th anniversary blast at the Circuit de la Sarthe last June.
Herbert even got into the spirit by recreating the famous post-race photo of him sprawled over the rear bodywork in exhaustion. Such was his state that he missed the podium celebrations with team-mate Bertrand Gachot (left with Johnny) and Volker Weidler in 1991 – so this was an opportunity to set that right, too.
The best way to capture Johnny’s memories of the Mazda is to listen to, rather than read, his energetic impression of the banshee rotary. As we’re on the printed page, try reading the next bit out loud – but perhaps on your own, rather than in front of the family or on a train…
“It was interesting driving the Mazda again compared to the Audi R8 in 2004,” he says. “Going through the Porsche Curves in the R8, there were a couple of bumps, but it was quite smooth. But in the Mazda, it was everywhere. The gearbox was so slow. Because it was a rotary the engine would die quite quickly.” Ready? Here come the sound effects… “Bahmmmmm – [pause] – bahmmmmm – [pause] – bahmmmm! You’d go down the straight bouncing around. In the Porsche Curves, in an R8 you go into the right-hander entry: wehmmm, ding, bow, wehmmmm, wangggg… bam, bam, wehmmm. With the Mazda, you’d go: wehmm, behmmm – [pause] – BRMMM, BRMMM – [pause] – RR, RR, RR, RR, RRRRR – [pause] – ber-rr-rr-rr, BRMMM, BRRMM… hee, hee! Completely different! It bounced all over the place, everywhere…”