Project X: Forty-seven Rotary Engineers



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Top-ranking teams such as Mercedes and Porsche had '150 staff members including cooks. They also had trailers. Terada was stunned.
(Terada)

We were in a totally different world. The other competitors had the complete system for tuning cars, and also had catering services. We didn't have any such system or services. I just thought I would buy some sandwiches on the day.


(Narrator)

The preliminary race started. Three drivers took turns driving, competing for time. Other cars at the race had 600 horsepower engines, which was twice as powerful as Terada’s RX-7. After 30 minutes, an unbelievable incident happened. Mazda's first driver turned to the pit and dashed for the toilet. He was sick from strawberries

he had eaten before the race. Terada was also troubled with the insufficient tune up. It was a miserable defeat.
Mazda was informed of the defeat. There was one man who was very eager to help the team. He was Kunio Matsuura, then 41 years old, and one of the 47 engineers. After graduating from junior high school in Hiroshima, he joined Mazda.
Working as an assembler, he learned the mechanism of engines. He applied for the development of the rotary engine at the age of 23. Since then he had devoted himself to the rotary engine. With the permission from the company, he hurried to join Terada's team.

(Matsuura)

We honestly admitted that inferior technology was the cause of our defeat. We thought we should challenge again after improving the technology.
(Narrator)

Matsuura said to Terada, "Let me take care of the engine. I will make it run for 24 hours.”
(Terada)

Mr. Matsuura finally joined us. I had mixed feelings, because I truly welcomed him, but on the other hand, I felt he should have joined us much earlier. His joining the team was encouraging.


(Narrator)

In June 1982, Terada challenged Le Mans again. His team consisted of 20 members. They were very enthusiastic about completing the race, and showing off the fuel economy and performance of the rotary. Matsuura was the technical manager.
Terada finished the preliminary race in 50th position, and went into the finals. The 24-hour endurance race started at 4:00pm. The finish was scheduled for 4:00pm the next day. The engine tuned by Matsuura was in good condition. Terada drove for 3,800km at 200km/h. The scheduled finishing time of 4:00pm was approaching. Suddenly, at 3:41pm, an unusual sound from the engine was heard.
(Terada)

The engine choked. I thought it couldn't be true. I was so shocked. My heart was pounding.


(Narrator)

There was engine trouble. They could not continue driving until 4:00pm unless the engine was repaired. Terada stopped the car and turned off the engine - which was really a gamble. His strategy was to stop the car and wait on the course till just before 4:00pm. The engine, however, was almost beyond its limit after nearly 24-hours. He was not sure if he could start the engine again.
The car didn't come back around the circuit. The pit crew was upset. They were afraid that the engine might have stopped. Terada turned on the engine 10 minutes before 4:00pm.
(Terada)

I had never prayed to God, but I prayed to all the gods in the world at that time. 'Please let me start the engine at any cost.'


(Narrator)

The engine, with a dull sound, barely started. It was a risky challenge. They completed the race for the first time at Le Mans. Terada cried with joy in public, but Matsuura had mixed feelings. The result was 14th position. He fully recognised the gap between world-famous racing cars and theirs.
-Studio-
(Female)

We invite Mr. Yojiro Terada, the driver, and Mr. Kunio Matsuura, the technical manager and one of the "47 engineers."


(Male)

Mr. Terada, your prayer to all the gods in the world was rewarded, wasn't it?


(Terada)

Yes, if the engine had not started, our challenge would have been in vain. I intended to push the car to reach the goal. Without the checker flag at the goal, driving for more than 23 hours would have become meaningless. I wanted to finish the race at any cost.


(Male)

Mr. Matsuura, you were waiting in the pit, weren't you?


(Matsuura)

Yes, I knew that there was something wrong with the engine, because we heard an unusual sound. I was prepared for retiring from the race at the last moment.
(Male)

Some of your crew got ill from strawberries they had eaten. What other bad experiences did you have?


(Terada)

Our idea of car racing was just driving a car at the race. But we needed food, clothing, and shelter at Le Mans. There was nothing at first. We pitched a tent in an open paddock and lived there for about 10 days. What we had was only guts to win in a far away place where we couldn't make ourselves understood in Japanese.


(Male)

Mr. Matsuura, you must have been worried. What about the other 47 engineers and Mr. Yamamoto? What was their reaction to the defeat at the preliminary race?


(Matsuura)

Of course, they seemed to be disappointed. So was I. I strongly wanted to do something for them.


(Female)

Something for them?


(Matsuura)

I found out why the engine failed. I repeatedly regretted that I couldn't get better result from my work.


(Female)

People in the company were against the challenge to Le Mans, weren't they?


(Male)

Did you feel somewhat ashamed?


(Matsuura)

We didn't want to disturb the development of the engine's mass production. We were not in a situation where we could strongly ask them lo let us undertake the challenge.


(Male)

What did you think when you were allowed to go?


(Matsuura)

I just thought, “I will do it!"


(Male)

You completed the race, but the result was 14th position.


(Matsuura)

Because we successfully completed the race, I had a feeling that we had achieved one goal. But I recognised that there was a huge difference between our car and all the cars ahead of us. I wished to compete with them for a higher position, but I realised how high the standards of world-class racing were.


(Narrator)

There was another man who was bitterly disappointed at the result. He was 51 year old Yasuo Tatsutomi - one of the 47 engineers. He was promoted to General Manager of the Technology and Development Division. As he had made every possible effort for the rotary engine, he strongly felt that they should not be satisfied with the result.
(Tatsutomi)

They slowly followed the cars so as not to damage the engine and car. They waited until the preceding cars retired, outraced them, and reached the goal. I didn't enjoy the race, as it wasn't aggressive.




Tatsutomi directly appealed to the company for support, and said, "If we don’t compete to win the race, the company will be ashamed." He received full support from the company.

Tatsutomi ordered engineers to develop an engine to win at Le Mans. One thousand engineers were fully mobilised for increasing the power of the engine, while keeping its fuel economy. This project was beyond their imagination. A powerful rotary engine with 700 horsepower was finally created in the spring of 1991. They were ready or Le Mans.
However, there was a shocking announcement that year. Due to race rule changes, a rotary engine car wouldn't be allowed to enter the race from the following year. They took their chance in their final race. Le Mans was on June 22 1991.
Jaguar was the winner of the previous year, and Mercedes was the top choice for the championship. There were many powerful teams from all over the world. The manager of he race was Takayoshi Ohashi. Although he had lost in the previous races, he was ready for the race that day.
(Ohashi)

I intended to beat Jaguar, and believed Mercedes wasn't perfectly ready. We were determined to do our best, and we tried hard.


(Narrator)

The team consisted of 120 members with three cars. Since one of the cars was an old model, the remaining two cars had a possibility to win the race. Terada was 44 years old then, and his ability as a driver had passed its peak. He gave the new cars to the young drivers.
The 24-hour race started at 4:00pm. How many kilometres could they drive with 2,550 litres of gasoline? The key element was fuel efficiency. Mercedes took the lead at 3:00am. Four laps behind, Jaguar followed.
Mazda competed fiercely with Jaguar. At 5:00am, Mazda finally shook off Jaguar and made it into second place. Matsuura, the technical manager, was sure of second place if nothing went wrong.
(Matsuura)

I had no fear at all. I thought that if nothing happened, we could reach the goal, keeping our pace. We could finish second. I thought of reaching the goal.


(Narrator)




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