The Porsche legend has been closely linked with the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race since the beginning of the company's history. Iconic race cars such as the Porsche 917 and the 956/962 Group C “rockets” have shaped the image of the brand and motorsport alike. Since June, 14th, the Porsche 919 Hybrid also joined the proud ranks of Le Mans winners.
There is good reason to race the Le Mans-winning Porsche LMP1 car with the Le Mans number 19 entry at the Goodwood Festival of Speed (25 – 28 June 2015). Porsche factory driver Brendon Hartley (New Zealand) will race the near 1000 hp hybrid prototype on the twisty and narrow racetrack. In addition to this high-speed appearance, Porsche will display both the Porsche 936/81 and the 962 C – the Le Mans-winning cars of 1981 and 1987. The WSC Spyder, which raced at Le Mans in 1998, will take the start at Goodwood, too.
Porsche’s street legal sports cars will be represented by several plug-in hybrid-models on the racetrack at Goodwood House. In addition to the Panamera S E-Hybrid and the Cayenne S E-Hybrid, the high-performance sports car 918 Spyder will tackle the racecourse. In 2014, the car set a new lap record for electrically powered cars. The Goodwood Festival of Speed will see the U.K. premiere of the 911 GT3 RS. Last but not least, Porsche will send the Cayman GT4 as well as the all-new Boxster Spyder on the famous hill-climb. The owner of the huge park is Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, Earl of March and Kinara.
Prior to the Porsche 919 Hybrid’s victory, the brand had won the world’s most important endurance race a total of 16 times – the first time in 1970 and most recently in 1998, or 17 years ago. By clinching the 17th overall victory for Porsche at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, the most efficient Porsche race car of all time has also launched a new chapter in the brand’s long and successful history. Moreover, just like many of its famous predecessors, the Porsche 919 Hybrid also represents the dawn of a new era in automotive technology.
Indeed, Porsche has repeatedly introduced ground-breaking innovations in motorsport, and these have often made their way into production models as well. The turbocharged engine that earned its wings in Le Mans is as much a part of the Porsche brand DNA as is the Porsche dual-clutch transmission (Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe), which was used in 1986 for the first time in a Porsche 962 at the Circuit des 24 Heures. Sports cars from Zuffenhausen have also repeatedly reaped the benefits of pure motorsport technologies, such as ground effect aerodynamics and carbon-fibre components. With its most recent triumph at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Porsche 919 hybrid drive with a total system output of approximately 1,000 hp underwent a baptism of fire under the most gruelling conditions.
At the same time, all of Porsche’s overall victories in Le Mans can be attributed to the exceptional work performed by the people who design, build, prepare and drive unique vehicles – as the following review of 16 historic successful outings at the Circuit des 24 Heures illustrates.
With its dozens of class victories in Le Mans, Porsche has long since demonstrated that sports cars from Zuffenhausen offer exceptional performance and efficiency in endurance races as well. Now, Porsche is seeking to capture the ultimate prize in Le Mans. In 1970, the brand therefore enters seven of its powerful Porsche 917 models into the race. The cars go up against 11 Ferrari 512s and fast prototypes with three-litre Formula 1 engines. This race will go down in motorsport history as the “Battle of the Titans”. After a dramatic 24 hours marked in part by extremely nasty weather, Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood from the UK win the race in a 917 “short-tail” from Porsche Salzburg. Their car is powered by a 4.5-litre 12-cylinder 180° V engine with an output of around 580 hp. When it’s all over, Porsche has achieved its first overall victory in Le Mans in the company’s history and – in another first – is also the only brand on the winners’ podium. That’s because Herrmann and Attwood are followed by a 917 “long-tail” (Gérard Larrousse and Willi Kauhsen), and a 908/02 driven by Rudi Lins and Helmut Marko.
A total of 33 of the 49 cars racing in Le Mans were built by the brand from Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen – a record that still stands today. The race is won by Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep in a Porsche 917 “short-tail” of Martini Racing with a magnesium frame. Their brand colleagues Herbert Müller and Richard Attwood finish second in a car in a “Gulf Design” that’s just as iconic. Marko and van Lennep complete 397 laps (5,335.13 kilometres) at an average speed of 222.304 km/h, setting a record that lasts for 39 years. Before the race, Jackie Oliver drives a test lap at an average speed of 250.475 km/h, reaching a top speed of 386 km/h at the end of the long straightaway. It will be nearly 15 years before anyone drives around the Circuit de la Sarthe any faster – and that will be in a Porsche as well.
Jacky Ickx and Gijs van Lennep race to victory in a Porsche 936 and the brand treats the motorsport press and motor racing fans in Le Mans to another two world premieres – namely the first victory for a flat engine in Le Mans and the first for a turbocharged engine as well. The engine in question is the 2.1-litre flat engine that had already proved its worth in 1974 and now has an output of 550 hp.
Endurance motor racing fans get to experience one of the most extraordinary races in the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Renault brings four fast A442 Turbo models to the race; Porsche enters the fray with two 936 Spyder. After “his” car breaks down, Jacky Ickx gets behind the wheel of the other 936, which has fallen into 42nd place after experiencing problems with its injection pump. The car is now nine laps behind the Renault Turbo models, which are leading the race. Ickx stays in the cockpit for seven-and-a-half hours and clocks up one record lap after another. Renault responds by picking up the pace – but experiences technical problems. After 23 hours, the 936 is in first place with a 250-kilometre lead. However, a little less than an hour before the end of the race, the six-cylinder turbocharged engine in the 936 suffers piston damage. After time-consuming repairs are carried out, Jürgen Barth pushes the 936, one of whose cylinders has been shut down by the mechanics, over the last two laps and across the finish line for overall victory number four.
The first and still only overall victory with a race car powered by a rear engine is achieved by Klaus Ludwig and Don and Bill Whittington in a 935 K3 from the Kremer Racing Team. This also marks the first overall victory for a Porsche customer team in Le Mans. The drivers of two other private 935 models join Ludwig and the Whittington brothers on the podium. The 936 cars from the factory team are not as fortunate, however: Bob Wollek and Hurley Haywood, who were the fastest in qualifying, have to leave the race after their car suffers engine damage. As if that weren’t enough, the toothed belt for the injection pump in the sister car snaps off on the circuit during the night.
The 936 that drove to victory in 1977 and 1978 has actually been in the Porsche museum for some time now – yet it’s victorious once again in 1981. The rules now allow the installation of a 2.65-litre twin-turbo engine taken from an Indy car that hasn’t raced. The six-cylinder engine has an output of approximately 620 hp in Le Mans. Two 936/81 Spyders go up against Lancia, Ferrari, Peugeot, Rondeau and numerous private 935 models in race featuring a very large array of brands and teams. Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell, who were the fastest in qualifying, dominate the race from the start and beat out a Rondeau by 14 laps to capture the overall victory. This success marks the start of a series of seven consecutive victories – a feat no other brand has been able to match to date.
On March 27, 1982, a revolutionary race car drives its first test laps in Weissach: this Porsche 956, which was built in line with the technical regulations for the new Group C category, is the first race car from Weissach with an aluminium monocoque chassis. It was also consistently designed as a ground effect vehicle that would produce an extreme amount of aerodynamic downforce. The car is powered by the victorious 2.65-litre twin-turbo engine from 1981, which has an output of approximately 620 hp. On June 20, Porsche celebrates a spectacular 1-2-3 finish with the 956 in Le Mans: Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell finish first from the pole position, followed by Jochen Mass and Vern Schuppan, and Hurley Haywood, Al Holbert and Jürgen Barth. An analysis of the race reveals that thanks to its sophisticated aerodynamics, the new race car consumes significantly less fuel than the 936, despite recording a higher average speed than the latter.
Porsche now makes the 956 available to customer teams as well – and the innovative race car dominates the 24 Hours of Le Mans like no other car before it, as nine 956 models finish among the top ten in the race. There’s still plenty of excitement, though: after a gruelling battle marked by 25 lead changes in 24 hours, Al Holbert, Hurley Haywood and Vern Schuppan capture first place in a factory 956 with a 64-second lead over Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell (fastest in qualifying) in the factory team’s other 956.
The “winged” race cars from Porsche once again demonstrate their superiority at the Circuit des 24 Heures. Klaus Ludwig and Henri Pescarolo race to victory in a 956 from Joest Racing, finishing ahead of six other Porsche 956s, all of which are entries from customer teams.
Factory teams from Porsche, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Lancia and Peugeot make for an impressive starting field in 1985. Porsche uses the 962 C – the successor model to the 956. In line with the rules of the IMSA association in the U.S., the front axle of the new race car is moved forward by 12 centimetres. Hans-Joachim Stuck sets a new lap-speed record in the qualifying round in his 962 C with a water-cooled three-litre turbocharged engine with an output of approximately 700 hp. His time of 3:14.80 corresponds to an average speed of 251.815 km/h, which breaks the record set by Jackie Oliver in 1971. However, it’s the 956 from the Joest Racing Team that steals the show in the race, with Klaus Ludwig, Paolo Barilla and Louis Krages (“John Winter”) achieving a convincing victory at an extremely fast speed, despite the restrictions placed on fuel consumption by the Le Mans regulations.
It’s another spectacular year for Porsche in Le Mans: Derek Bell, Hans-Joachim Stuck and Al Holbert drive a factory 962 C to the 11th overall victory for the brand, finishing ahead of a 962 C from Brun Motorsport and a 956 from Joest Racing. Nine Porsche cars are once again among the Top Ten, including the first all-wheel drive race car to successfully compete in Le Mans – the 961, which is a racing version of the 959 with all-wheel drive, a sequential turbocharged engine setup and a whole range of additional technical features.
During the 1987 World Sportscar Championship series, the Porsche 962 C often loses out to the Jaguar XJR-8LM. However, Le Mans has always been a different story. Many cars – including one of the Porsche 962 C models from the factory team – have to leave the race due to petrol quality problems. The electronics in the car driven by Derek Bell, Hans-Joachim Stuck and Al Holbert are extensively reworked during the night, allowing the three to achieve a surprising and widely celebrated victory in Le Mans.
The new regulations for Le Mans allow Le Mans GT1 and Le Mans GT2 cars to once again race alongside prototypes. After extensively studying the regulations, Porsche engineers realise that a modified version of the 962 C can be entered into the race as a Le Mans GT1 car, the reason being that the required street-legal version – the Dauer 962 – already exists. Porsche equips the 962 LM-GT with a smooth underbody, achieves the required minimum weight of 1,000 kilogrammes, and fits the car with narrower tyres (14 instead of 16 inches). Instead of achieving a GT class victory, the car driven by Yannick Dalmas, Mauro Baldi and Hurley Haywood clinches the 13th overall victory for Porsche in Le Mans.
Porsche and Porsche customers return to Le Mans with victories in all classes. Reinhold Joest takes over from the factory team two TWR WSC 95 sports prototypes that were meant to race in 1995. Joest modifies the two vehicles and optimises their aerodynamics at his own expense and with the help of engineers from Weissach. The car has a carbon fibre monocoque and is equipped with the proven three-litre turbocharged engine from the 962. It is driven to Porsche’s 14th overall victory by Manuel Reuter, Alexander Wurz and Davy Jones.
With the help of the Porsche factory team, Reinhold Joest and his team modify one of the successful Porsche TWR WSC 95 models from 1996 for use in the 1997 season. In the meantime, engineers in Weissach have further refined the 911 GT1, which had nearly won the 24 Hours of Le Mans the year before. The two favoured GT1 cars have to leave the race, however. Both are leading when they drop out, the second one exiting in the 22nd hour. The Porsche TWR WSC 95 from Joest Racing, which remained within striking distance throughout the entire race, captures first place once again. This 15th overall victory for Porsche is achieved with Michele Alboreto, Stefan Johannson and Tom Kristensen behind the wheel.
In order to remain competitive in the prototype competition, Porsche builds a new race car from scratch for the 1998 season. The 911 GT1 ‘98 is equipped with the first carbon-fibre chassis ever developed by Porsche. Its 3.2-litre twin-turbo engine is mounted in front of the rear axle, as was the case with the 911 GT1. The race escalates into a duel between Porsche and Toyota. After unscheduled repair stops cause the two Porsche cars to fall behind, Toyota also begins experiencing problems toward the end of the race. Porsche wins the duel 90 minutes before the race ends. The brand celebrates its 16th overall victory in a 1-2 finish, with Allan McNish, Laurent Aiello and Stéphane Ortelli coming in ahead of Jörg Müller, Uwe Alzen and Bob Wollek. It is a welcome and hard-earned achievement in the sports car brand’s 50th year of existence.
The revolutionary efficiency regulations for the FIA World Endurance Championship and the traditional season highpoint in Le Mans lead Porsche to return to the world of top-class motor racing in 2014. The new rules once again provide a great deal of leeway for technical developments that will also play a role in future street-legal sports cars from Porsche: thus was the Porsche 919 Hybrid born. Powered by an extremely efficient two-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and two energy recuperation systems (braking and exhaust-gas energy recovery), the closed-top prototype has a total system output of approximately 1,000 hp. After a “learning year” in 2014, the car has been further perfected by the team in Weissach, which now has 230 employees. And so it is that 45 years to the day of the brand’s first overall victory, Earl Bamber, Nico Hülkenberg and Nick Tandy finish first ahead of the sister car of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber to earn Porsche its 17th overall triumph in Le Mans. The success story continues.
911 GT3 RS: Combined fuel consumption 12.7 l/100 km; CO2 emissions: 296 g/km
Boxster Spyder: Combined fuel consumption: 9,9 l/100 km; CO2 emissions: 230 g/km
Cayman GT4: Combined fuel consumption: 10,3 l/100 km; CO2 emissions: 238 g/km
Cayenne S E-Hybrid: Combined fuel consumption: 3,4 l/100 km; CO2 emissions: 79 g/km; Electricity consumption: 20.8 kWh/100 km
Panamera S E-Hybrid: Combined fuel consumption: 3,1 l/100 km; CO2 emissions: 71 g/km; Electricity consumption: 16,2 kWh/100 km