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Porsche’s road to Le Mans

#91, Porsche Motorsport, Porsche 911 RSR (2017), driven by Richard Lietz, Frederic Makowiecki at WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps 2017, Spa-Francorchamps race circuit, on 06.05.2017

#91 Porsche 911 RSR
The #91 Porsche 911 RSR driven by Richard Lietz and Frederic Makowiecki rounds Malmedy during the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on 6 May 2017

Sixty-six years ago, on 24 June 1951, the first Porsche was pushed tentatively onto the starting grid of the 1951 Le Mans 24 Hour race. The lone, diminutive 356 SL would finish in a remarkable twentieth place overall. Fifty-one years ago, on 19 June 1966, the first Porsche 911 would see action in the 24-hour race, and finish in a commendable fourteenth place overall and scooping first place in the Grand Touring 2000 class, in a year that saw Ford make a clean sweep of the podium. Below are several remarkable and memorable milestones on Porsche’s road to Le Mans.

#35 Porsche 911 2.0 Coupé (1966)
Jacques Dewez and Jean Kerguen start the 1966 Le Mans race on 19 June 1966 driving the #35 911 2.0 Coupé. They would finished 14th overall and 1st in the GT 2.0 Class

Perhaps all the more remarkable about the 1966 race was the fact that the single 911 S was in near-standard trim. Entered by privateer Jacques Dewez, and driven by himself and Jean Kerguen, the French pairing drove a solid race and finished behind five Porsche 906s and eight prototypes. The following year, the field included four privateer 911s, with the highest finisher being in fourteenth place once again.

#35 Porsche 911 2.0 Coupé (1966)
Jacques Dewez and Jean Kerguen in the pits in the #35 911 2.0 Coupé. They finished 14th overall and 1st in the GT 2.0 Class at Le Mans on 19 June 1966

Porsche, of course, went on to lift the coveted Le Mans trophy themselves for the first time in 1970, a pleasure they would enjoy seventeen more times between then and 2016, more than any other manufacturer has done. During this time, Porsche have taken the chequered flag at Le Mans with a number of different race cars, from the legendary 917, 936, 935, 956, 962 and GT1 to the latest 919 Hybrid.

#35 Porsche 911 2.0 Coupé (1966)
Jacques Dewez and Jean Kerguen driving the #35 911 2.0 Coupé finished 14th overall and 1st in the GT 2.0 Class at Le Mans on 19 June 1966

As can be seen from the table below, it hasn’t always been the prototypes that have taken the glory either, as the 1979 victory by the Kremer Brothers was won with their 935 K3, a 911 derivative. In 1994, the Dauer Porsche 962LM was entered as a GT1 car and in 1998 the factory-entered 911 GT1 also took the title. Although these latter two cars were officially GT1s, they were potent racers fully capable of beating the prototypes.

Porsche’s eighteen Le Mans winning race cars

Year Model Chassis Drivers
1970* 917K 023 Hans Herrmann/Richard Attwood
1971* 917K 053 Helmut Marko/Gijs van Lennep
1976* 936 002 Jacky Ickx/Gijs van Lennep
1977* 936/77 001 Juergen Barth/Hurley Haywood/Jacky Ickx
1979 935 K3 0090015 Klaus Ludwig/Don Whittington/Bill Whittington
1981* 936/81 003 Jacky Ickx/Derek Bell
1982* 956 002 Jacky Ickx/Derek Bell
1983* 956 003 Vern Schuppan/Al Holbert/Hurley Haywood
1984 956B 117 Henri Pescarolo/Klaus Ludwig
1985 956B 117 Klaus Ludwig/Paolo Barilla/Louis Krages
1986* 962C 003 Hans-Joachim Stuck/Derek Bell/Al Holbert
1987* 962C 006 Hans-Joachim Stuck/Derek Bell/Al Holbert
1994* Dauer-Porsche 962LM GT003/176 Mauro Baldi/Yannick Dalmas/Hurley Haywood
1996 TWR Porsche WSC 95 001 Davy Jones/Alexander Wurz/Manuel Reuter
1997 TWR Porsche WSC 95 001 Michele Albereto/Stefan Johansson/Tom Kristensen
1998* 911 GT1/98 003 Allan McNish/Stephane Ortelli/Laurent Aiello
2015* 919 Hybrid N/A Nico Hülkenberg/Earl Bamber/Nick Tandy
2016* 919 Hybrid N/A Romain Dumas/Neel Jani/Marc Lieb

*Porsche works entry
Roll forward to 2017, and we are once again on the doorstep of the Le Mans 24 Hour race, this being the 85th running of this great event. As expected, Porsche will enter two 919 Hybrids in the LMP1 class, and two 911 RSRs in the GTE Pro class. Following the dramatic finish at the 2016 Le Mans race, Toyota will be going all-out to finally lift that trophy for the first time, after many years of trying. Toyota have proved mighty strong and reliable in the first two races of the year, and they will be very difficult adversaries to put off their stride.

#1 Porsche 919 Hybrid
The #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Nick Tandy rounds Malmedy during the WEC 6 Hours of Spa on 6 May 2017

#2 Porsche 919 Hybrid
The #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley enters the pit lane at the WEC 6 Hours of Spa on 6 May 2017

On the GTE side of things, the 911 RSRs have not enjoyed a productive (insofar as results are concerned) start to the 2017 season, scoring just a single third place finish at Silverstone in April. At the Spa 6 Hours, the two RSRs finished fifth and sixth in class, hardly spectacular. Speaking to a team member afterwards, I was told that they had done everything right at Spa, having had no technical problems, no on-track problems, no hitches during pit stops, they just couldn’t match the speed of the others in class. You can be sure that the lights have been burning late into the night at Weissach in an effort to get to the bottom of the matter! Be ready for a battle royale at Le Mans on 17/18 June.

#91 Porsche 911 RSR
The #91 Porsche 911 RSR driven by Richard Lietz and Frederic Makowiecki waits to leave the pits during the WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone on 14 April 2017

#92 Porsche 911 RSR
The #92 Porsche 911 RSR driven by Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre rounds Malmedy during the WEC 6 Hours of Spa on 6 May 2017

In the GTE Am class, Porsche will be represented by four entries, three of which are to be run by the very capable Proton Racing stable. Porsche will be up against stiff opposition from Ferrari, as the Italian marque will have no fewer than eight cars running in this class. But just a quick look at the drivers of the Porsche RSRs, leaves one with the impression that it isn’t the numbers that will help to win this class, it is the quality of the drivers and here the Porsches are very strong. Should one car drop off the entry list before the race, the reserve entry waiting in the wings is an additional 911 RSR…you guessed it, run by Proton Racing.

#77 Dempsey Proton Racing 911 RSR (2016)
The #77 Dempsey Proton Racing 911 RSR (2016) driven by Christian Ried, Matteo Cairoli and Marvin Dienst in the pits at the WEC 6 Hours of Spa on 6 May 2017

You can bet your bottom dollar that Porsche will come out fighting at Le Mans. This is good news for the spectators as they will be likely to see an excellent 24-hour long scrap in LMP1 and both GTE classes.

#86 Gulf Racing 911 RSR (2016)
The #86 Gulf Racing 911 RSR (2016) driven by Michael Wainwright, Ben Barker and Nick Foster at the WEC 6 Hours of Spa 5 May 2017

Porsche Road & Race will be there from the very beginning, ready to catch the first wheel that turns at scrutineering on Sunday 11 June, right through to the final flag on Sunday 18 June. Keep watching this site for more Porsche action throughout the week!!
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale and John Mountney

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