Porsche’s record-setting history at Le Mans

Porsche’s record-setting history at Le Mans

We invite you, therefore, for a short history replay before what awaits us on June 10. We will tell you briefly about the history Porsche in the biggest race in the world. It will be a sure story of victories, stars and amazing machines. See for yourself.

Porsche – the most successful manufacturer of Le Mans

The history of the German manufacturer in the 24 Hours of Le Mans began in the first half of the 1950s, when the Porsche 956 won its class in the 19th edition of the race. There were two drivers behind the wheel at the time. Auguste Veuillet and Edmond Mouche came from France and led the Stuttgart brand to victory in a machine powered by a 1.1 liter engine. The Porsche finished 20th out of class. That’s where it all started, and since then Porsche has been in the field continuously until today.

picture. Porsche / Porsche 956

What happened next? Porsche, after a small but still success, did not intend to end the adventure with the 24-hour race. The 956 model remained on the field for the following years, bringing victory in its engine class. That breakthrough came in 1958, when Porsche finished Le Mans on the overall podium for the first time. The crew of Jean Behra and Hans Herrmann in the Porsche 718 RSK finished behind the Ferrari 250 and Aston DB3S. This cockpit design weighed just 570 kg and was powered by a 1.6 liter mid-engine. However, Porsche entered the 1960s without much success. DNFs and finishes outside the top 10 made this period less pleasant for the manufacturer, and only 5th place in 1961 proved to be his greatest achievement.

First podiums and victories

From the mid-1960s, when Porsche started producing the 904 model, things started to go in the right direction. The car was designed under the leadership of Hans Tomala – the engineer responsible, among others, for the Porsche 911. The design was equipped with a two-liter B4 engine. In 1965 this model won its class and the crew of Herbert Linge and Peter Nocker finished the race in a very good fourth place. The success was repeated a year later, this time Jo Siffert and Colin Davis finished fourth in the development version of the car. The best result for Porsche in that decade was two podium finishes in 1968. The two crews in the Porsche 907 and 908 were only beaten by the legendary Ford GT40.

Porsche 917K Salzburg

picture. Porsche / Porsche 917K in the painting of the team from Salzburg

When there was room in the field for cars with great potential, which could be mercilessly exploited on tracks with the same characteristics as Le Mans, Porsche decided to take advantage of the situation. Engineers built a completely new model – Porsche 917. Despite the initial problems, the 917K version of the car entered Le Mans in 1970 and fulfilled the goal that guided the project from the beginning. I managed to win all the races. Richard Atwood and Hans Herrmann in a Porsche with a unique photo of the team from Salzburg that traveled the longest distance. It was Porsche’s first victory at Le Mans. This performance was repeated a year later. This time, the 917 was driven by Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep, who competed for Martini Racing. We wrote about the full history of this legendary car in an article, the link of which can be found below.

The golden years at Le Mans

The next few years were dictated by the construction of Matra, where Porsche did not have much to say outside the podium. The German brand returned to form from previous years only in 1976. Then the Martini team presented the Porsche 936, ie the successor of the iconic 917. The 936 was a more modern design and, above all, up-to-date in terms. of the principle. The engine had 6 cylinders, and the capacity exceeded 2 liters, which, with a weight of up to 750 kg and a power of about 540 hp, ensured good performance. The race was won by the best team of Jacky Ickx and Gijs van Lennep. Porsche won another edition, and in 1978 the brand’s cars completed the podium. 1979 brought another victory, this time with the iconic 935. At that time, Klaus Ludwig and his brothers Bill and Don Whittington competed for Porsche Kremer Racing.

Porsche 936

picture. Porsche / Porsche 936

But the best for Porsche was yet to come. After Jean Rondeau’s victory in 1980, the German manufacturer returned to the top step of the podium the following season. Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell did it in a new, modified Porsche 936. In 1982, a new era began for Le Mans. The top class became the now iconic group C, which produced some of the fastest cars in endurance racing history.

Porsche in the legendary Group C

Porsche produced the 956 model and teams using this model won the next four editions of the race. The design was light by new standards, weighing only 800 kg. A six-cylinder boxer with a capacity of 2.65 l was able to produce 635 hp. The most interesting, however, was the outside. Porsche produced a large amount of downforce, thanks to the powerful spoiler and improved aerodynamics by closing the cockpit. Despite the car being remembered (in part for being too dangerous), Porsche’s winning streak continued.

Porsche Group C

picture. Porsche brand cars / Group C gathered in one place

In 1986, engineers from Stuttgart just developed a new model to compete in the class. It was a Porsche 962 and structurally it was not much different from its predecessor. We were dealing with a boxer 6 cylinder again, the power was fine. Of the most important things – the volume (increased to 3 liters) and dimensions of the car changed, because Porsche often used the arrangement known from the 917. It is about the position of the driver, whose feet were in front of the front axle. This model also began to win. With this machine, the Rothmans Porsche team won the next two editions. This meant that Porsche won 7 Le Mans races in a row. This is an unbeaten record to date. During those years Porsche cars were driven by drivers such as Derek Bell, Jacky Ickx, Paolo Barilla (yes, it’s pasta), Al Holbert, and the aforementioned Klaus Ludwig.

The end of the 20th century also brought important victories

For the following years, although Porsche remained in the field, until 1994, it failed to win Le Mans. The truth is that the car in which Mauro Baldi, Yannick Dalmas and Hurley Haywood won the race this season was not 100% Porsche. In Germany, only the car built by Jochen Dauer’s team was converted, hence the name – Dauer 962 Le Mans-Porsche. On the third hand, it must also be added that it was not Dauer’s project, because the number 962 did not come from anywhere. The car was based only on the Porsche with the same name. It didn’t take long for more victories to come.

After 1995, which was won by McLaren, Porsche returned to win again in a modified design of another manufacturer. This time, for the Joest Racing team, Porsche took the model built by Tom Wilkinshaw Racing. It was used for racing in the WSC class and brought two victories. Joest Racing had a very good cast at the time. The crew includes Tom Kristensen, Michele Alboreto, Alexander Wurz, Davy Jones, Stefan Johansson and Manuel Reuter.

Porsche 911 GT1-98

picture. Porsche / Porsche 911 GT1-98

A year later, Porsche entered the factory LMGT1 class with Laurent Aiello, Allan McNish and Stephane Ortelli. The car that led the team to victory was a Porsche 911 GT1-98 with a unique image. The body of the car was very modern, because Porsche chose a carbon monocoque. The composite itself was a variant of carbon fiber, which the manufacturer even specifically patented. The development version of the 911 racing was powered by a 3.2-liter boxer flat-six. The design was old, but it was proven and it was this feature that turned out to be important. The Porsche was slower than the Toyota model, but the Japanese lost the problem with the gearbox. Mercedes, on the other hand, experienced problems with the fuel pump. Thus, the most reliable Porsche won Le Mans in 1998.

The great interregnum, or 17 years without winning a race

As it turned out, the 911 victory was the last for Porsche for almost two decades. Until 2014, this manufacturer did not even compete in the top class. To be fair, it should be mentioned that Porsche construction, i.e. all possible variants of the 911 model, competed at Le Mans in GT car classes, often winning. It must be admitted, however, that it is not the same and many fans of the brand certainly suffered when Audi won the next editions with its superiority, and Porsche was not even in the LMP1 stock.

Hybrid era for endurance racing

This has changed with the evolution of LMP1 cars into hypersport hybrids. Then Porsche decided it was a good time to come back. The then-new 919 model was powered by a 2.0-liter V4 engine backed by a powerful hybrid. All of it produced a whopping 750 hp and was capable of fighting the LMP1-H prototypes. The first Le Mans was unsuccessful due to many technical problems, but in 2015 Porsche got it right. The team of Nico Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber won the 24-hour race. It was the first victory for Porsche since 1998.

919 2016

picture. Porsche / Porsche 919 Hybrid

A year later, success was repeated. The truth is that Toyota was leading at the end of the race. Perhaps many fans can remember the failure that happened to the Japanese team in the last kilometers of the race. However, these are the charms of Le Mans and many drivers have already found out about them, including Robert Kubica and the WRT team. In the end, Porsche won another victory. This time the winning team included Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani.

The winning trilogy was completed in 2017. Porsche won again in all races, even despite Toyota’s first qualifying position. This team at the time was the fastest in a single lap and it was in that qualifying that the record for the fastest lap in the history of the track was broken. In the race, Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber won, giving the German manufacturer its last Le Mans win to date.

Today’s prototypes and future predictions

It is important to mention that the last version of this car, after the development of advanced models, produced 900 hp. You have to remember that and realize that these cars were really powerful. Nowadays, technical possibilities would also allow it. With principles like these, however, we can forget about the larger scale we are considering today. Well, something for something. All we can do is wait for fierce competition in the jubilee edition of the race. Will Porsche break his record? This is Le Mans, anything can happen here, so we just encourage you to follow the race. The race at the Circuit de la Sarthe will take place on June 10.