Where do you begin with Porsche? For almost fifty years the German marque has been pushing the limits of endurance racing technology, from the 907 to the 919 Hybrid Porsche have become the most successful brand at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and in 2014 they are going in with a double pronged attack.
Not since the LMP2 hell raising RS Spyder has Porsche had two distinct models in two very different classes, for sake of trying to catalogue at least some of these monsters we are going to focus first on the Prototypes…
First – and as mentioned above – is the 907, the first of the true Le Mans challengers. This was a time when the Ford GT40 and its massive V8 ruled the roost down the Mulsanne Straight but, as with most things in motorsport, it appeared that breed was being forced out and Porsche jumped on the rule change with their next machine – the 917.
This racer would fit perfectly within the FIA’s new Group Six regulations for prototypes with lower capacity engines.
However, with aerodynamics something of a dark art it was a car that was incredibly unstable in its first year of racing with John Woolfe sadly dying after a collision with the barrier at Maison Blanche .
It was discovered with some thanks to dead insects on the body work that there was no airflow over the rear wing. John Wyer and his JWA Gulf Team decided the best course of action to remedy this would be to bolt on aluminium sheets and create the 917K known as the short tail.
Thanks to the Langheck version of the car, Porsche took its first and second win at Le Mans in 1970 and 1971.
In the years proceeding Porsche would turn to GT and cars like the 934 and 935 – which were technically classed as silhouettes – would carry on the strong form of both Porsche and cars bearing the Martini branding. However, Porsche’s step back into what would now be seen as full blooded prototypes embracing Group C.
Group C effectively killed off qualifying special engine trims like that seen in the 936 which would see 800hp when the wick on the turbo was brought up to eye boggling levels. The rules limited fuel use and made teams focus on other aspects of the car like aero development.
The engine in the 956 was developed from an IndyCar engine Porsche had designed – a 2.65 litre flat six, but my god did it shift especially with its utilisation of ground effect aero to keep it planted round Tertre Rouge and the other sweeping bends.
The car, combined with Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell, would take two wins on the spin for Rothmans Porsche. After that, in 1984 and ’85, it would be Joest Racing’s turn to take a pair of wins before it would be cast aside by the 962C.
Built to fit IMSA GTP regulations, it didn’t take much work to make it conform to Group C rules and immediately it took wins in 1986 and ’87 before Jaguar, Sauber, Mazda and Peugeot managed to get ahead of a still competitive car. That was proved in 1994 – eight years after its first win – when a modified, Dauer, 962 took the race victory.
From then it was a complete shift in focus back to the GT machines and the mammoth 911 GT1 which was based, believe it or not, on a road going version of the car. That said they were only built in order to appease homologation regulations. In it’s only appearance at Le Mans, in 1998, endurance racing’s greatest Scotsman Allan McNish would combine with Laurent Aiello and Stephane Ortelli to take a hard fought win against the Mercedes CLK-LM and the BMW V12 LM.
It was from then that the 911 GT3 in various guises would become almost unstoppable in the lower GT classes in what is now known as GTE but has been known as GT2. Wins have come from all across the globe in the Grand Touring category with Team Taisan taking the first class win of the new millennium in the 911 GT3-R, followed by Alex Job Racing and IMSA Performance Matmut.
That was last year, the first year for the 997 variant of the car and Team Manthey’s first year as the official factory team in the WEC. Now the dream from Weissach will be the 997 winning GTEPro while the 919 can beat off challenges from Audi and Toyota to take their 17th overall class win.