Sunday, June 7, 2015

45th Anniversary of Porsche's First Win At LeMans

Porsche is coming back to LeMans this year, contesting overall victory with Audi (which has been winning LeMans for years, once even disguised as a "Bentley"), Nissan, and Toyota.  But after wins by the 935, 936, 956, and 962 in the 1970's and 1980's, I hope I can be excused for being a little jaded about Porsche's return.  Besides, Prototypes are so butt ugly these days...

I'm not jaded about Porsche's first overall win, in 1970--in my favorite big-bore sports racing car, the 917.  I was busy with school and establishing myself as an adult in '67, '68, and '69, when Porsche was racking up more class wins and Ford ruled the LeMans overall wins.  The 917 had escaped my notice.  It was a turkey in 1969 anyway.  So it surprised me to learn that Porsche had won overall in 1970.    "Wow--Porsche can play in the big leagues!"

Le Depart: 917 K's and LH's and Ferrari 512's as far as the eye can see.  The eventual winner is buried mid-field.

The 917 LH of Vic Elford/Kurt Ahrens was the "true" factory entry: slippery shape, 4.9 liter engine, and prepared in
Stuttgart although entered by Porsche Salzburg.  Elford and Ahrens were among the fastest drivers on Porsche
retainer, and Ahrens had logged more test miles than any other 917 driver.  This car contested the lead with
the Wyer-Gulf 917 K's until they all were delayed and eventually retired.

Hans Herrmann and Richard "Dickie" Attwood with 917-001 decades after their win (note the Goodwood Festival sticker
on the rear deck).  This car, done in LeMans-winner livery, is now in the Porsche Museum.  The actual winner, 917-023,
surely the most valuable 917 in existence, is privately owned in Brazil.  Attwood, as lead driver, chose Herrmann, who's
experience with Porsche went back to open road race days, as his co-driver.  He also chose the less-stressed 4.5 liter
engine over the 4.9.  After qualifying well down, Attwood later said "I thought I'd dropped the biggest brick of my
career.  With all those fast cars ahead of us, we were never going to get to the front.  But they all dropped out."
After this career-capping win, Herrmann immediately retired from 16 years of racing at age 42.

Could this picture have been taken on the old Mulsanne Straight?  Four miles, no chicanes.  Old Mulsanne was one reason
Old LeMans was such a car-breaker.  Drivers who wanted to be left standing after 24 hours breathed their engines on it.
Then there was another long, flat-out run on the other side of the course from Arnage to the Old Esses.

Mulsanne Corner in the rain.  The best LeMans races seem to include rain.  It wears everyone out even more.

Victory lap at Indianapolis Corner.

No comments:

Post a Comment