The Porsche 917 was introduced in 1969 as the company’s entrant in the World Manufacturers’ Championship that year, and although the 917 was at first a difficult car to handle, it would soon prove itself. Porsche had spent many years rising up the ladder in terms of international victory and success, but class wins was about all the company could realistically hope to achieve. The one victory that Porsche so badly wanted, but had to date eluded them, was the Le Mans 24 Hour title, as in 1968 Porsche had come so close when they finished in second and third place.
Ferdinand Piëch was determined to win at Le Mans, and so when a window of opportunity presented itself, he built the 917 in accordance with the regulations as laid down by the FIA. Although the 917 did not win Le Mans in 1969, it did take the title in 1970 and in 1971, before the window of opportunity that Piëch had grabbed, was closed. In 1970, the 917 won at Daytona, Brands Hatch, Monza, Spa-Francorchamps, Le Mans, Watkins Glen and the Österreichring earning Porsche the Manufacturers’ Championship with twice as many points as the second-placed Ferrari team. The 917’s list of victories in 1971 was similarly impressive, but this signalled the end of the race car’s life in this championship.
The Porsche 917’s usefulness was by no means over, as private teams entered the car in the European Interserie as well as the US Can-Am series. Fitted with a turbocharger, the race car, now with open Spyder bodywork, became the car to beat on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, in 1972 and 1973, the 917’s Can-Am rivals gave up the fight as the Porsche was simply too fast in the hands of George Follmer and Mark Donohue.
In his book about the Porsche 917, author Karl Ludvigsen, has once again provided the reader with a convenient source of history and insight into the design and development of this great race car. As before, the book is not big on the word count, but the detailed captions explaining the cleverly selected images give the reader a good insight into each 917 model. A useful introduction at the front of the book gives the reader a good idea of what is to follow, and the rest of the book is given to the photo/caption style of explanation. Interesting for the reader, is the group of images that show some of the key engine components of the all-conquering Type 912 engine which powered the Porsche 917.
The images in the book are sequenced in such a manner so as to explain the progression of the 917, thereby helping the reader to mentally place different victories, achievements, and race car models in the correct order. The Can-Am cars that raced in the US, namely the 917/10 and 917/30, were developed with the help of driver/engineer Mark Donohue, a member of the very successful Penske Racing team. The turbocharger was not an easy component to get right, and Donohue was instrumental in this area, eventually making the 917/30 almost unbeatable.
Close-up photos showing additional detail such as the chassis construction, engine, brakes and suspension, the wheels and brake cooling fins as well as the cockpit are extremely helpful in understanding the development of the 917. There are also many photos of the various models in action during testing as well as actual racing.
The 917 enjoyed a six-year competitive life that stretched from 1969 to 1975, in other words well beyond the three years initially envisaged in the Manufacturers’ World Championships.
After spending two decades accumulating class wins with the company’s smaller engined race cars, the 917 finally saw the Porsche company breaking into the big time. Porsche clinched its first Le Mans title in 1970, and almost four decades later, the company has amassed more Le Mans victories (19 in total) than any other manufacturer, and today boasts in excess of 30,000 international class and overall victories. No other manufacturer comes close. So, while the 917 was the race car that gave Porsche its first Le Mans victory, all the other race cars that went before it also played a part in getting that first title.
Karl Ludvigsen is a well-respected author, and in this book, he has successfully presented the 917 in all of its various guises, in a simple and easy to follow style. Although this is not a new book by any means (published 2006), it is an extremely useful record of these important race cars that established Porsche on the international motorsport stage.
Acquiring this publication, along with the other two mentioned above, will provide the reader with an easy to read series of books at a very reasonable cost. For this reason, I am glad that I have this book in my library.