Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Winningest 917 (?)

Brian Redman turns into the La Source hairpin at Spa-Francorchamps in 1970, in 917-014 [029]  As a matter of trivia,
I learned on the most recent stroll through my 917 archives that the "full-width, no-center-airfoil Horsman K-tail" was
used only once: here, at Spa, in 1970.  After the 1970 Spa race, the Wyer team used their Horsman tail with the center
airfoil or the Porsche-developed twin-fin tail.  They used the former where the need for rear downforce trumped the
the need for low drag (e.g., Monza) and the latter where the circumstance was reversed (e.g., LeMans).

Regular readers know my obsession with Porsche 917 chassis history.  There is some confusion about chassis numbers (for a variety of reasons), so I decided to cross-check my re-reading of John Horsman's memoir, Racing in the Rain, with Janos Wimpffen's Time And Two Seats.  The latter is the go-to source for the history of FIA sports car racing.  One reason for confusion, as Horsman points out, is that Wyer-Gulf's seven original chassis were returned to Porsche in the winter of 1970-71 for crack-testing and refurbishment.  Porsche renumbered them, considering them "new" in their scheme of things. Horsman retained the old numbers because they corresponded with his racing records and parts inventory/history.

It turns out that there's only one minor discrepancy between Horsman and Wimpffen.  917-026 appears to be an original-build number, rebuilt and raced as a spyder (031) after its Wyer days.  Wimpffen records 031 for a Wyer race-entry.  The other "dualies" line up without discrepancy: 004 became 017, 013 became 034, 014 became 029, and 015 became 035.  These numbers also correspond with the chassis history on

Fellow 917 freaks will remember the famous photo of 25 cars lined up for FIA inspection in the Porsche yard in March, 1969.  It begs the question of how one of the early chassis supplied to Wyer (004) could be renumbered as a car already built (017).  A likely explanation is that some of the original 25-car build was cannibalized to provide parts (including chassis) as cars were crashed or intentionally broken in destructive testing.

Having sorted the discrepancies as best I could, I wondered which was the winningest 917 of all?  Of course this is debatable.  Is a LeMans win worth more than other races?  (Wyer-Gulf didn't win LeMans for Porsche, although they won the championship in 1970 and 1971.)  Should non-championship races be counted?  Do you go only by number of wins, or count podium finishes too?

I go by podium finishes in championship events, and my nominee is... 014 [029].  Over two seasons, its record was: 2nd at Daytona, 1st at Spa, 2nd at Watkins Glen, 1st at Buenos Aires, 3rd at Brands Hatch, 2nd at Spa, and 2nd at Watkins Glen.  013 [034] and 016 both had more wins (3 each).  But neither of them matched 014 [029's] long string of podiums, and it trailed them by only one win.

Either way, the drivers' names for all three cars are a Who's Who of the early 1970's: Jo Siffert, Brian Redman, Derek Bell, Pedro Rodriguez, and Jackie Oliver.  If Ferdinand Piech hadn't nixed Wyer's nomination of David Hobbs as a driver in 1970, his name would probably be on this list.  Talk about chariots of the gods!

Note: After writing this post, I learned that Porsche 917: Archives And Works Catalogue 1968-1975 is available in an English edition as of 01/01/15.  I've pre-ordered it.  As earlier noted of my German edition, it is the last word on 917 chassis numbers from Porsche's viewpoint.  Maybe it will clear up the minor mysteries of 004 [017] and 026 [031].

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