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The rich history of Porsche at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

In 2020 the German manufacturer celebrates the 50th anniversary of its first success in the general classification of the legendary race. With 19 victories it is the most winning brand.

Since Porsche participated for the first time in 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 1951, and immediately achieved victory in its category with the X, this endurance race has become indispensable for the sports car manufacturer. But it took a long way to get the first big win ...

Until the late 1960s, Porsche played a less relevant role by concentrating on the smaller displacement categories. Then he started a change of strategy and that allowed him to become the protagonist of the race.

In 1969, for example, it was only 75 meters (or, in other words, less than a second) from victory in the tightest finish in Le Mans history. The revenge came quickly, in 1970. In that edition, in addition to the first place in Hans Herrmann y Richard Attwood at the controls of a Porsche 917 KH, Gerard Larrousse and Willy kauhsen they were seconds with him Porsche 917 LH Martini y Rudi lins y Helmut Marko they finished third with the Porsche 908/02, which was a resounding success for the German house.

1970 Porsche Le Mans
Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood, at the controls of a Porsche 917 KH, won in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1970.

That first victory set a precedent: a year later, 33 of the 49 entered were vehicles from the Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen manufacturer, a record that is still unbeaten today.

A Porsche 917 KH also won the race in 1971. And in 1974 he ushered in the turbo era at Le Mans with the launch of the 911 Carrera RSR 2.1 Turbo. Two years later that motorization marked a milestone by winning with the Spyder 936. While in 1977, with the same model as the previous year, Porsche won again with its official team.

In 1978 a client team won for the first time. That success achieved with a Porsche 935 k3 it also marked the first triumph of a car with a rear engine and derived from a production car (the Porsche 911).

Between 1981 and 1987, the Porsche racing cars were unbeatable at Le Mans. The longest period of victories in the history of the 24 Hours began with the third and final victory of the Porsche Spyder 936. The following year, in 1982, the official team launched the new 956, with which he occupied all three places on the podium in his debut.

Porsche 911 GT1
Porsche 911 GT1.

The 956 carried the first chassis aluminum monocoque by Porsche and innovative aerodynamics that allowed it to achieve a large load without a significant increase in air resistance.

With the 956 and its successor, the 962 C, the sports car manufacturer led the development of the electronic ignition and injection systems, same as the one Porsche dual-clutch transmission (PDK), so popular today. From 1983 onwards, Porsche customers began racing with the 956 and 962 C. Nine Porsche 956s finished in the top ten in 1983, and eight did so in 1984 and 1985.

In the '90s, between the official teams and those of clients they obtained four absolute victories with three different types of car. The first came in 1994 with the Porsche 962 Dauer Le Mans GT, developed in Weissach and based on 962 C; followed by those of TWR Porsche WSC Spyder developed by Porsche, with which a customer team won in 1996 and 1997.

In 1998, the Porsche 911 GT1 entered the test with the first carbon fiber monocoque designed by Porsche, as well as the first carbon fiber brakes used by the official team. And they won coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the registration of the first Porsche sports car, the 356 “No. 1” Roadster, with which the history of the brand began.

Porsche 919 Hybrid.
Porsche 919 Hybrid.

Following that success, Porsche shifted its racing policy to focus on developing racing versions of the 911 close to the series production model, and with them turned to supporting private teams. At Le Mans, this commitment was rewarded with eleven victories in his class between 1999 and 2018.

In 2014 the official team returned to compete again for overall victories. Designed "from scratch" in Weissach, the Porsche 919 Hybrid it incorporated unique technical solutions.

This prototype was the only one that generated electricity for the high-performance battery in two different ways: on the one hand, by converting the kinetic energy produced during braking and, on the other, thanks to a turbine powered by the exhaust gases of the V4 engine. Turbo. The propulsion system was made up of the electric motor and the combustion engine and offered an overall power of about 900 horses. This state-of-the-art solution proved to be a success. From 2015 to 2017, Porsche achieved three consecutive wins at Le Mans.

With 108 victories in its class and 19 overall, Porsche is the most successful manufacturer in the almost 100-year history of Le Mans.

THAT FIRST VICTORY

Herrmann and AttwoodIn 1970, after exactly 4.607,811 kilometers or 343 laps, Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood crossed the finish line in the lead in the 917 Porsche Salzburg 23 KH. “It was a race dominated by rain and we had to constantly change tires and adapt to the situation. It was not wear and tear that forced us to do so, but the constant changes in weather conditions. The coordination of the whole team is what led us to victory. Competing in a 24-hour endurance race with just two drivers is not an easy feat ”recalls Herrmann.

Many of the competitors, including numerous Porsche, gradually withdrew from the test. “Le Mans is a race where everything goes well, or it doesn't. In those days, the 24 Hours was more of an endurance driving test than a race ”, Attwood explains. “Winning Le Mans with Porsche and Hans was completely unexpected because our car was not set up properly for high speeds. Hans and I were just a dream team ”.

Herrmann and Attwood"We worked on the car until the last minute," adds Herrmann. “The 917 was originally a very difficult racing car to drive. He was driving us, and not the other way around, until we were able to optimize the aerodynamics and transform it into a winning vehicle. "

Back home in Stuttgart, Porsche's victory was celebrated with a parade of cars through the city and on the main square. “This victory was gaining importance over the years. Who could have thought that Porsche would become the record mark of this race?points out a satisfied Attwood. “I also had an additional setback that day: I could not eat anything during the test and only drank milk to keep fit behind the wheel. Then I found out I was developing mumps. "

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Automundo

Automundo is the blog about news from the automotive industry, motorsport and the culture of the region. Director: Diego Durruty.

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