“The incredibly loyal mechanics there really were amazing,” Stroud recalls. “They’d been with Mazda for years and worked bloody hard, in not very nice conditions in Tokyo – it really was like working in a dungeon!”
“It was a good atmosphere though, and I got on well with the team boss Takayoshi Ohashi. He understood the Western racing culture more than the rest of the Mazda executives. He was the one that pushed quite hard for any development that Mazda couldn’t really understand.
“I think that happens in any company-derived race team, when the top brass can’t understand what the hell’s going on!”
Ohashi had been running racing programmes using Mazdas since 1967, first entered Le Mans in ’74 and then ran the works Le Mans programme from 1983. Without Ohashi’s astute politking, the 787B wouldn’t have even made the ’91 Le Mans starting grid, never mind been competitive.
He managed to persuade the ACO – who were desperate to keep field numbers up with a Japanese presence – to allow it to run at 830kg instead of the 1000kg all other Group C cars were required to run, plus keep its Wankel rotary engine for just one more year before it would be outlawed the following season. The opposition didn’t see Mazda as a threat, and didn’t protest. This was Ohashi’s last real shot at Le Mans glory with Mazda.
Together, Ohashi and Stroud gradually managed to bring about the changes needed to make themselves into a race-winning team with a car to match.
Stroud had come in when the team were still running the Mazda 737, and used his 956 knowledge, not to mention considerable F1 expertise, to then design the subsequent 757 in 1986, then three more cars culminating in the 787B.
“Working on the Porsche 956 was quite a good learning experience. You knew that was a car that was very, very successful long term because the package was right,” Stroud says. “But packaging the rotary Mazda engine wasn’t very easy.”
Hiroshima was insistent on using the Wankel rotary power unit, its signature scream becoming a well-known noise down the Mulsanne straight.
Year on year, a search for more power meant the engine was growing in length, and accomodating it was a headache for Stroud.
“We had a bit of banter with the power unit guys because with two rotors, it was obviously quite a short, stubby little thing,” he recalls.
“The 757 went to a three-rotor, and what they did was to just add the rotor on one end of the original engine. Then when they went to the four-rotor R26B for the 787B, they simply added one up the other end.”
“I asked why they couldn’t just put two rotors together, to save on spacing, but they said they wouldn’t be able to build it, so that’s fair enough, isn’t it?”
The bigger the engine, the bigger the problem…
“The rotary bit is a non-stressed member of the car. So it’s very difficult to go to get enough rigidity in the engine bay area, as it was with the Porsche really.