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Porsche 917 Driving Impressions

Porsche 917 Driving Impressions

The Porsche 917 – What They Said

We found some great interviews from back in the day on what drivers thought about driving the mighty 917. Below we took excerpts and quotes from the drivers who were brave enough to drive the Porsche 917.

Brian Redman

The below appeared in the Argentine magazine Automundo Nº246 of January 20, 1970 on Page 48. 

The English driver Brian Redman participated with a Porsche 917 in the 1000 km. from Buenos Aires from 70. He tells his impressions. On the occasion of the 1000 km competition, the English driver Brian Redman joined David Piper in a Porsche 917. They had an outstanding performance until their abandonment produced as a result of a fuori-track. Next, the interview with the pilot by journalist Jorge Luis Mitri.

Journalist: What is the usual procedure to find the limits in a racetrack like the one in Buenos Aires, absolutely unknown to you until a few hours ago?

Brian Redman: Well, fundamentally it is necessary to determine where to apply the brakes to be able to face a curve well. Knowing the car, after a dozen braking times, you “feel” when the tires are about to lose grip when braking. The locking of the wheels, which of course depends on the characteristics of the track surface, determines the maximum pressure that can be exerted on the control pedal, and consequently the point to which it is possible to advance before applying the brakes. Once a first estimate has been made, a reference point is sought to always be able to brake in the same place, which may be a stone on the side of the road, a stain on the asphalt or the position of the flaggers… as long as they don’t be too “strolling”.

Journalist: Do you use recesses to help the brakes?

Brian Redman: No. There are a lot of drivers who do it, but I think that in cars like the Porsche 917 the brakes are efficient enough to not need help. I make the lowers simply to enter the curve with the engine running at a suitable speed so that it delivers all its power. When he had to face the curve that follows the main straight, for example, at the moment of applying the brakes he went from fifth to third, and then back down to second.

Journalist: Why that choice of changes?

Brian Redman: Well that is nothing more than a consequence of the constructive characteristics of the Porsche 917 box. The common thing in 5-speed boxes is that they are distributed according to the conventional scheme; first and second in one plane and third and fourth in another, and that the fifth is beyond the third-fourth plane and that to place it it is necessary to overcome the action of a spring. In 917 on the other hand, it is the first one that is displaced -to the left of course- which leaves the second and third in the same plane and the fourth and fifth in another. Coming from fifth one could go to fourth, but there is always the risk of “hooking” the second by mistake, which would put the engine in orbit. On the other hand, if the movement in U is made that leads from fifth to third, there is no possibility of erring the change and placing the first, because there is the spring that tends to prevent it, unless intentionally enough force is used to overcome it; from third to second is simple because you have to make a movement in the same plane, pulling to the left so that fourth is not going to enter. With a car with a conventional box layout, it is likely that from fifth would have lowered to fourth – it is enough to unhook the fifth for the spring to send the gear lever just in front of the position of the fourth – and from there it would make the same movement in U to go to second. from third to second is simple because you have to make a movement in the same plane, pulling to the left so that fourth is not going to enter. With a car with a conventional box layout, it is likely that from fifth would have lowered to fourth – it is enough to unhook the fifth for the spring to send the gear lever just in front of the position of the fourth – and from there it would make the same movement in U to go to second. from third to second is simple because you have to make a movement in the same plane, pulling to the left so that fourth is not going to enter. With a car with a conventional box layout, it is likely that from fifth would have lowered to fourth – it is enough to unhook the fifth for the spring to send the gear lever just in front of the position of the fourth – and from there it would make the same movement in U to go to second.

Journalist: Why did you skip one of the intermediate marches?

Brian Redman: From the moment I don’t use the engine to brake, I can skip as many gears as I want, as long as, at the time of inserting the chosen lower gear, the travel speed of the car is correct for the engine to work. to an acceptable regimen. I omit one of the gears so as not to unnecessarily fatigue myself and the clutch. As a general rule, you always have to try to make the fewest possible changes, during lowering for what I just said, and in upshifts for the same reason and also to save time.

Journalist: How do you save time by avoiding changes?

Brian Redman: When a shift is made, the engine is disconnected for at least a fifth of a second. In the stopes this does not matter because at that moment what matters is the action of the brakes and not that of the engine. In upshifts, on the other hand, each time we press the clutch means that for a fifth of a second the engine stops “pulling” … and that fraction can decide a race if it accumulates a sufficient number of times. At the Buenos Aires racetrack, for example, I never placed fifth outside the main straight, because in the rest of the circuit the speed I could develop in fourth was enough.

Reporter: Speaking of top speeds, could you go full throttle with your car on the main straight?

Brian Redman: No way. It was not enough to pass 300 kmh.

Journalist: Are there any notable differences between driving a Porsche 917 and driving a 908?

Brian Redman: Yes there are, and very remarkable. First of all, the 917 is more than 200 kg. heavier than the 908, and that makes maneuvering difficult. On the other hand, its remarkably superior power forces you to handle the accelerator with a silky foot. Many corners that can be taken fully on the 908 require very careful work with the right foot when riding a 917. Taking the accelerator pedal a few millimeters lower means going off the track! To make things even more complicated, in the 917 we are sitting very low, which prevents us from seeing “the tips” of the car, as in the 908.

Angel Monguzzi

Note appeared in the Argentine magazine ” Parabrisas Corsa ” Nº250 of February 2, 1971 on Page 27

On the occasion of the 1000 km competition. from Buenos Aires in 1971, the Argentine driver (from Córdoba, to be more precise) Angel Rubén Monguzzi nicknamed “Negro” was lucky enough to be invited to participate in a Porsche 917 of the Auto Usdau team in replacement of the German driver Willi Kauhsen, attacked by a strong flu the Friday before the race. His partner would also be the German Reinholdt Jöst

This is how on Saturday the “Negro” found himself mounted on a 917 that until very recently was a unit of the John Wyer team and was now in the hands of Herr Usdau , who was the DT of the team.

Monguzzi didn’t even know what the gear diagram was like or if the gearbox was four or five gears and it said: “It is a difficult car to drive because it is not frank. It is very sensitive. It is somewhat capricious. Before getting on, I went to the mixed car and began to watch how they did to fold Siffert, Bell and Rodríguez. That way I had an idea of ​​how was the issue. If you look for the ideal radius and keep it there, dosing the accelerator at the exit of the curve (whatever it is), surely one will end up on the grass … On the other hand, if one faces the curve with The car crossed and always looks for the rope so that the trunk does not get out of control, it comes out perfect. And if not, just watch Vic Elford turn. It is the only way to turn fast. I saw it and tried to imitate it …. I found his hand and I continued like this because I was comfortable. But I say that it is by no means a car that surrenders to the one who drives it. One must anticipate the tricks he has. “.

“Why did I adapt so quickly? I honestly don’t know. Possibly because of the agency. I always had a car dealership and as a kid I drove anything. A Volvo truck, a Morris 8, a Morris-Cooper, a Volvo Sport or a little Ford 38, and I think that should influence … that’s the only logical explanation I can find for this. ”

“Of course, riding in a serious car is very different. The look of the 917 is incredible! You come at 300 km / h on the back straight and drive off the wheel, and the car goes straight. On the other hand, in the curves are not much different from the Argentine Sport Prototypes “.

“What impressed me the most about the 917 was the acceleration, due to the engine which is outrageous and the stopping power is beyond belief”

Carlos Reutemann

Carlos Reutemann, who in 1981 would become Formula 1 world sub champion , was at that time making his first weapons in international categories (he raced with a Brabham in European F2). In the 1000 km. from Buenos Aires in ’71, he shared a 917 with Emerson Fittipaldi. They qualified 9th almost 4s from pole time and abandoned the race on lap 43.

This was Reutemann’s opinion: “I think that from a Brabham from F2 to 917 there is a difference field. It is quite a sub-steer car in slow corners, as in the Ombú (name of one of the curves of the Autodromo de Buenos Aires), but it behaves very well on fast cars such as Salotto and Ascari (idem), which are very important to ride fast on this racetrack. The box is extremely precise and the driving position is super comfortable, its instruments being very visible, although it seems a lie, in its most part important is made with warning lights for the pilot. All made of course to try by all means to prevent the breakage of mechanical organs, which is very expensive in a device like the Porsche 917 ” – Parabrisas Corsa Magazine Nº247 – January 1971

Vic Elford

“… at the beginning nobody handled it. We worked a lot and we were composing it. Until we made it drivable at Brands Hatch … Every car was different and the settings of one made another a death trap. An additional half centimeter of adjustment in the static height of the horn was a huge difference. On a circuit with mixed curves, forget about it. Or oversteer and understeer, but like this, by hand. Personally, I never dared to test the brakes thoroughly. It comes at 380 km / h in Le Mans and neither I, nor you, nor anyone dares to try to slow down the braking 10 meters … ”

“Above 300 km / h it is a bit unstable in very strong turns …”

Jackie Oliver

“It is formidable, it runs a lot. It’s great on fast corners. In the forks is death. You enter slowly the first time, you enter about 20, you step on it and it crosses you. Next time you go in faster and what am I going to tell you about? In the end I realized that you have to enter slowly, be patient because it seems that it takes an hour to turn, and as soon as you see it straight you must step on it with everything. The power is incredible. ”

Pedro Rodríguez

“… the box was sensational, like a street car. Brakes not adequate for speed. And when it passes a donkey’s back, it flies about half an hour before hitting the ground again. I like cars that ride strong. ”

“Motor” on May 23, 1970

A copy of a note that appeared in the magazine “Motor” of May 23, 1970. In this note, journalist Paul Frère writes about his impressions after testing a Porsche 917K (chassis 008) and an experimental body 908/03 in the southern sector of the old Nürburgring. This sector is a part of the Nürburg that was not used regularly and does not even exist today. It’s a very interesting article. The date of the tests is unknown, but Frère wrote that everything happened before 1000 km. Monza, so it must have been April 1970. Read on….

“The car literally ‘jumped’ forward and immediately urged me to put 3rd gear (all in the time you read the first three words of this sentence).”

Having driven the latest version of the 917 and the as yet unreleased 908/03 at the Nürburgring is an experience that can’t wait for me to write it.

It all happened because I was unable to attend the Porsche Press Conference held last December in Hockenheim. During this conference, a few journalists were invited to drive the 908 with which Porsche won last year’s championship.

To remedy my absence, I was invited to drive the latest models in a Testing session.
It was like this, a few days before the 1000 km. From Monza and the Targa Florio, I went to the Nürburgring where a new 917 with minted bodywork and two 908/03 – the first experimental prototypes – were tested.

For these tests the southern sector of the Nürburgring was rented for four days. Not much work had been done yet when I arrived the afternoon before the third day of testing. As many of you surely know, the southern sector of the Nurburg is rarely used for the development of important skills. Despite having done about 1500 laps in the north sector, the south sector was very unfamiliar to me, so I had to acclimatize by turning with my BMW Alpina. It is a sector as good as the north, with ups, downs and a great variety of curves, however it has been little used until more security measures are implemented.

After two days of rain, “D-Day” was dry and sunny and Porsche development engineers Flegl (responsible for the 917) and Bantle (responsible for the 908) kindly allowed me to drive both cars for a long time, at Despite the fact that it was a very “usable” day after bad weather significantly delayed the rehearsals planned by them.

Hans Herrmann tested a 908/03 for a few laps in the morning, under the watchful eye of Bilstein technical staff (shock absorbers) at some key points on the circuit.

Then Hans tested the 917   that had arrived at dusk the day before from the factory, and after attending to some details, “the beast” was put at my disposal.

Driving the 917

The cockpit was surprisingly comfortable and by no means tight, with a great range of seat adjustment. There is a selection of the height of the steering column (the adjustment is facilitated by a universal rubber joint, incorporated into the column), and it even has a luxury detail which is a telescopic adjustment as well.

Even with the helmet on, I didn’t have the feeling of little space above my head. According to what is normal for a race car, the steering wheel is quite large and as soon as the car started to move I understood why.

The cockpit is extremely spartan, the plastic panels are rough and the instruments are reduced to the essentials, rev counter, oil thermometer (which in an air-cooled engine replaces the water thermometer) and oil pressure gauge. “Idiot Lights” take care of the rest.

The steering column is slightly offset towards the center line of the car and the pedals are located next to the domes that house the large front wheels.

The 917 gearbox has been designed to accommodate four or five gears, although only the four-speed gearbox was used this year. The car that I had to drive was the 008 chassis belonging to the Porsche Salzburg Team, which also had a four-speed gearbox.

To avoid any possible error in the selection of the gears, there is an ingenious system consisting of a plate over the position of the first gear that prevents that by mistake when going from 2º to 3º, it enters 1º.

Actually, except to move the car when it is stationary, there is practically no need to use first gear on this circuit. Even though there is a narrow area where you have to go below 25 mph, second gear is sufficient, which speaks volumes for the elasticity of the Flat 12 engine.

Although the engine had time to cool down when it was stopped for a while, while the car was being serviced, it started at the first key stroke.

I closed the door (it does not have a security lock like all Porsche doors and I slowly entered the track feeling the sensation that the car was as comfortable as a street one.

The highest power-to-weight ratio cars I drove (2.5-liter Formula 1) had around 300 to 320 hp per ton. The 600 HP of the 917 brings the figure to double.

The circuit layout begins with a twisty descent, which includes slow corners, all of which I rode in second gear. Then comes a short straight. Since the engine was not warm enough, I had a good excuse to be careful, and I shifted into third gear without speeding it up too much. And when I reached the long straight I made it to fourth in the same way.

After one lap, I noticed that the engine was warm enough to rev it up. I took the last slow corner in 2nd and sped it up.

What happened then is worth remembering. Surely an ordinary motorist cannot imagine it. The engine went “whooooom!”, The car literally jumped forward and immediately urged me into 3rd gear (all in the time you read the first three words of this sentence).

The same thing happened in third gear but I had to cut off as the next corner was coming up with alarming speed.

It’s easy to calculate that with the engine in its useful power range, second gear acceleration is very close to 1g and the most amazing thing is that with the large 17 ”Firestone tires there is no sign of skidding. Another thing that can be calculated is that assuming 0.8g acceleration through first and second gears,   100 mph can be reached in 5.3 seconds.

After a few laps I started to understand things and to be able to use full power to the braking points. (with a reasonable safety margin). Some of these things Herrmann showed me   in a few preliminary laps with his Porsche 911S (I found this a great help on a circuit that was not at all familiar). I soon discovered that 4th gear had to be used in several of the fast corners on the circuit.

Surprisingly the noise level in the cabin is very reasonable and despite its fantastic performance the car is not the infernal beast one might imagine. My lap times were actually about 10 seconds slower than the car could do, but I didn’t want to take any chances. In addition, it was in my mind the fact that it had been 10 years since I had driven a machine with half the performance of a 917. Despite everything the car looked wonderfully stable and well balanced, conveying a feeling of neutral driving behavior. fast cornering and a slight subvirance (it went horn) only in slow cornering, despite the fact that there is always more power available at hand (or right foot) if one needs it.

With the 10.5 ”wheels used at the front, the car reacts very quickly to   any movement in the steering, which with an 11.4: 1 ratio is very sensitive.

It has a strong return action especially in tight corners and is very lively, although without defects.

Brakes require some force on the foot, but they really stop the car. In fact, the grip on the track is such that I never found the locking point of the brakes, which, for these wide, modern tires, must correspond to a deceleration of about 1.3-1.4g.

Coincidentally, the car had cast iron vented brake discs, even though copper-chrome alloy discs were successfully used on the rear brakes at Daytona (but not at Sebring, a very demanding brake circuit). Those expensive copper-chrome discs also have the advantage of having a high coefficient of friction, reducing the pressure required on the pedal.

To reduce the unsprung weight (all the weights that are not supported by the suspensions: rims, tires, etc.) the discs are cast iron rings placed on a titanium hub through a light alloy cone to which the disc is set. The lightweight alloy cone lightens the assembly by about 2 pounds (obviously unsprung mass) compared to the one-piece disc.

Driving the 917 is an amazing experience and there is no question that one must adapt to driving a car like this for several hours in a competition. Not only because it requires considerable physical strength but also because at this level of performance you cannot relax your concentration for even a second. Obviously the early days problems were fixed   (the 917 records, including its victories at Daytona and Brands Hatch prove it so) and the 917 is no longer a difficult car to drive.

It is interesting to note that although the reduction of the front anti-dive factor from 50% to 25%   (percentage that the 917 had before Le Mans last year) and the use of wider tires and tires (the tires went from 9 to 10.5 inches in front and 12 to 17 inches behind) made the car more docile, the improvement in handling has been mainly originated in the aerodynamics. The main factor is the new wedge-shaped body, but the stiffening of the front spirals also contributed to better aerodynamic stability as variations in incidence were reduced, which could indirectly cause the car to lift off the ground. Neither the geometry nor the configuration of the suspension were modified.

Driving the 908/03

After a short time, the 908/03 that had been being cared for in the pits took to the track and I was invited to drive one. This was the true first prototype of the new model, which was the second to be tested by Hans Herrmann in morning rehearsals. Both cars had been brought to Sicily in March for practice leading up to the Targa Florio but they were still very experimental, with some of the aluminum chassis tubes cut or stitched together in an effort to promote lightening.

They also had slightly different bodies, ugly and under-minted. They were developed in the wind tunnel, not with the intention of having low air resistance but of having good downforce without the need for spoilers, compact dimensions and light weight. These characteristics were suitable for a car specially designed for tight circuits like the Targa Florio and others, where exceptional maneuverability and agility are required.

Except for the hydraulic coupling (built as a car transmission coupling and not as a torque limiting device as often used in air blower guides) built into the cooling fan guide to prevent inertial failures previously experienced, the engine is unchanged from last year as is the wheelbase, which since 1964 has been 91 inches for all Porsche competition models, including the 917 !!

The truth is that the car as a whole has been considerably lightened and at this point it probably weighs around 500 kg (1,100 lb) or even less. In order to keep the front wheels flat to the ground, a new five-speed gearbox has been fitted, causing the engine to run forward, causing the driver to sit with their feet only a few inches from the leading edge. of the tube.

For the Targa Florio, a “space saving” Goodrich tire, mounted on a front wheel (in an emergency it can be mounted on a rear wheel) is fitted to the right of the transmission. This is only a precautionary measure given the duration and characteristics of this competition, since at present the prototypes are not required to have a spare wheel.

The new version of the 908, called 908/03 is an evolution of the type 909, special mountain climbing car, which appeared at the end of 1968. The 909 had a completely different 2-liter flat 8 engine, based on a unit of 1962 Formula 1. In order to gain weight, the cast iron brake discs are drilled over their entire working surface (at the factory they are called “Gruyère discs”). This does not cause alarming effects on the drive. of the brakes.

Firestone 13 “tires are used on 9.5” front wheels (11 “were also used) and 12” rear wheels.
In this car the driver’s position is more central than in the 917.
The five gears plus reverse are selected in three planes with strong action of returning the lever to the center and with a mechanism that prevents the driver in a situation of trouble. go from 5th gear to 2nd gear instead of 4th gear.

The cockpit finish is spartan with a dashboard similar to the 917. One can visually check the behavior of the anti-roll bar, since it works above the steering column. This gives an idea of ​​how far forward the driver’s position is in this car.

As I took the wheel of this car, I couldn’t help but think about the progress that has been made over the last 10 years, remembering that this Porsche has an engine with the same three-liter displacement as my Le Mans-winning Ferrari “Testa Rossa” from 1960, but with twice the weight-to-power ratio even though the 350-360 HP of the Porsche engine is well below the value that a three-liter can have. In fact, the weight-to-power ratio should be very close to that of the 917, although this is not manifested as fierce in the 908 perhaps because the 3-liter does not have the colossal mid-range torque that the Flat 12 of 4.5 does. liters of the 917.

El Flat 8 es impresionantemente dócil, pero su potencia aprovechable no aparece antes de las 5500 rpm. Sabiendo que el límite máximo se encuentra en las 8500 rpm puede concluirse en que el rango utilizable es de solo 3000 rpm. (El 917 tiene las mismas medidas de diámetro y carrera de 85 x 66 mm, pero su tapa de cilindros tiene ángulos de válvulas mas estrechos)

With this car it is necessary to make more gear changes, that is to say that all five are used in the course of a lap. Due to the strong spring that brings the lever to center point, it took me a short time to master the gearbox and be sure to go from 4th to 5th (and not 3rd) when upshifting. But once you “take his hand” the car behaves spectacularly. It is wonderfully maneuverable and could be “thrown” into corners with no problem, being especially good in S-curves where the impressive reaction to changes of direction was wonderful.

With the exception of the stiffness of the gearshift lever, this is a car that drives primarily with sensations and not with force and the perfect visibility coupled with the very fast reaction to steering wheel strokes inspires great confidence. Even though the application of the brakes does not require much force, they stop the car without any drama, even if they are used to the limit. Applying too much power in a tight corner will obviously cause the tail to stick out, but it is very easy to correct it and take advantage of the power to help the car turn.


In conclusion, I have found the 908 to be a more “humane” car than the 917, somehow more in harmony with the driver.
Consequently, my lap times were better with the 908 than with the 917. I feel that I have driven the 908 with more initiative than the 917 although it is also true that with the running of the laps I have been increasing my knowledge about the secrets of a track in which he had never driven real racing cars.

In absolute terms I might think that both cars are pretty even on this rather winding circuit, but I’m sure I’d be absolutely exhausted after driving a 917 really fast for an hour, whereas I could drive a 908 the same way around it. double the time or more.

On a fast track things should be very different since the 917 K (short tail) will probably have a top speed of 220 mph, about 45 mph faster than a 908/03. (The 917L long-tail specially designed for Le Mans will be 30 mph faster this year.)

Even though I did not have time to enjoy those two Porsches enough, I am very grateful to factory officials for giving me the opportunity to confirm one of my convictions about an important point in motorsport history: the widespread nonsense that motor sport stands for. belief that the famous 1934-37 Auto-Union racing car (designed by Ferdinand Porsche Sr.) was very difficult to drive due to its far forward driving position.

My personal opinion has always been that the factors that intervene in the bad behavior of a car, the difficulties to drive it, the vices of oversteering and poor stability in a straight line must be attributed to the considerable predominance of weight in the rear axle, narrow wheels , oscillating axle rear suspension with positive static camber and considerable camber and toe variations of the car and not the forward driving position, which really has nothing to do with it.

Paul Frère
Motor Magazine
May 23, 1970