IT HAS BEEN OVER 50 YEARS since Porsche seized its first Le Mans 24 Hours overall victory.  This is the history of Porsche’s 19 overall wins at 24 Hours of Le Mans.

But even more than a half-century ago, Porsche set the stage for its domination in global motorsport, from those earliest days of Porsche No. 1‘s first win in Innsbruck, Austria, to present day.  Although, the first overall huge endurance victory took place much later during the venerable, legendary racing granddaddy of them all, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Peering in the rear-view mirror of racing history, we glimpse countless class triumphs and a record 19 overall Le Mans victories for the marque of Porsche ever since that first victory on June 14, 1970.

But Porsche had to crawl before it could walk, and then run the marathon that was and is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  As luck would have it, though, Porsche’s first crack at the 24-hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe, France, foretold Porsche’s unprecedented triumphs to come.

The year was 1951, and Porsche’s maiden 356 SL entry captured the attention of the racing world with a first-time Le Mans 24 class victory.  Going forward, though, was a long row to hoe for the Stuttgart sports-car constructor.

Yes, Porsche kept a low but promising profile winning time to time in its smaller-displacement classes.  This restrained underachievement endured through the late 1960s.  Yet gradually Porsche began pressing its foot down in earnest on the strategic accelerator of motorsport.

Navigable History of Porsche’s 19 Overall Wins at 24 Hours of Le Mans

You are able to learn more about the history of Porsche’s 19 overall wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans from start to finish, if you so desire.  Or you can utilize the navigable Table of Contents / Outline right below to navigate the whole article to and from the items that you wish to peruse at your own leisure, and skip the items you do not want to read.


Navigable Table of Contents / Outline

Introduction to the History of Porsche’s 19 Overall Wins at 24 Hours of Le Mans

So Begins the History of Porsche’s 19 Overall Victories at 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1970

1970 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 1st Win

1971 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 2nd Win

1976 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 3rd Win

1977 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 4th Win

1979 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 5th Win

Porsche’s 1981 through 1987 24 Hours of Le Mans Record-Setting Winning Streak

1981 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche 6th Win

1982 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 7th Win

1983 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 8th Win

1984 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 9th Win

1985 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 10th Win plus Hans-Joachim Stuck’s Historic Moment

1986 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 11th Win

1987 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 12th Win

Conclusion to the History of Porsche’s 19 Overall Wins at 24 Hours of Le Mans

1994 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 13th Win

1996 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 14th Win

1997 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 15th Win

1998 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 16th Win

2015 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 17th Win

2016 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 18th Win

2017 24 Hours of Le Mans — Porsche’s 19th Win


Introduction to the History of Porsche’s 19 Overall Wins at 24 Hours of Le Mans

Losing Le Mans in 1969 by only a whisker, the closest photo finish in Le Mans history, turned the tide for Porsche.  It demonstrated Porsche’s growing lust to win.  And it also demonstrated Porsche’s determined will as well as its honed acumen to win.

In hindsight it is clear to see that Porsche had amassed a substantial body of racecraft knowledge and skillsets from those previous two decades of discreet research and development at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Yet, equally important — if not more so — were the Le Mans drivers.  Porsche’s factory and privateer drivers emerged over the half-century as some of the best in the business — as we will soon discover…

So Begins the History of Porsche’s 19 Overall Victories at 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1970

1970 — Porsche’s 1st Le Mans 24 Win

Porsche’s motorsport reputation grew and grew over the two decades of the Fifties and Sixties.  As testament to that fact, 24 of the 51 entries in the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans were Porsche race cars.  Clearly these privateers early on recognized that there was no substitute for a Porsche.

This edition, the 38th running of the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans Grand Prix of Endurance, occurred on June 13 and 14, 1970.  Pouring rain wreaked havoc on the drivers and their race cars during a large portion of the race.  As a result, there were accidents galore.

The staggering rate of attrition was such that only seven race cars received classification as finishers.  Worst of all, Jackie Ickx (BEL) driving his Ferrari entry somehow crashed in the dark of night.  When the dust had settled the discovery came that a track marshal perished during the accident in the Ford Chicane.

On a lighter note, a lot of the action footage for the Steve McQueen motion picture Le Mans was filmed during this 1970 Le Mans 24.

Many of the film’s racing sequences originated from the point of view of the competing No. 29 Porsche 908/02 car, powered by a Porsche 3.0-liter flat-six.  Officially entered in the race by Mr. McQueen’s Solar Productions, the 908 was rigged pre-race with movie cameras and driven by Herbert Linge (DEU) and Jonathan Williams (GBR).

Also worthy of note is the fact that this 1970 Le Mans 24 marked the first year drivers had to start the race already buckled up in their racecars.  Gone was the classic “Le Mans Start” to the races.

Those bygone signature starts entailed the drivers running across the track, jumping into their cars, starting them and accelerating as fast as possible in hopes of gaining some race advantage.

The “Le Mans Start,” incidentally, was the fundamental motivation for Porsche’s decades-old decision to install the car-key’s ignition on the left side of the steering wheel for more efficient race starts.  This kept the driver’s right hand free for shifting the car into first gear, in left-side-driven cars.

Porsche’s 1st Le Mans 24 Overall Victory Came Courtesy of Richard Attwood and Hans Hermann’s Brilliant, Flawless Driving

Crossing the finish line in overall first place during the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans was the No. 23 Porsche 917 K-70, with a Porsche 4.5-liter flat-twelveRichard “Dickie” Attwood (GBR) and Hans Herrmann (DEU) shared driving duties for the Porsche Salzburg team.  They finished an entire five laps ahead of the field.

Fairly recently, Mr. Attwood mused, “The victory gained in significance over the years.  Who would have thought that Porsche would become the record title holder at this race?”

As if Porsche’s first overall win wasn’t enough, two other Porsche entries finished right behind the victorious Attwood-and-Hermann Porsche:

  • Second place snatched by the No. 3 Martini Racing Porsche 917 LH in “mind-blowing” green-and-blue livery — and thus dubbed alternately the “Hippie Car” or “Psychedelic Porsche” — as co-piloted by Willi Kauhsen (DEU) and Gérald Larrousse (FRA) — powered by a Porsche 4.5-liter flat-twelve
  • Third place taken by the No. 27 Martini Racing Porsche 908/01 LH Spyder of fellow countrymen Rudi Lins (AUT) and Helmut Marko (AUT) — with a Porsche 3.0-liter flat-eight

Thus Porsche stood tall on all three steps of the podium post-race at the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The second-place and third-place Porsche race cars had very long tails ending in wings, which significantly reduced drag.  The race cars came to be famously — and winningly — known as “long tails” or langheck.  Hence the racing press nicknamed them the “Batmobiles.”

Editor’s Note:  For further elaboration on Porsche’s first overall 24 Hours of Le Mans victory in 1970, please refer to the Porsche Club of America‘s latest August 2020 issue (No. 761) and read its fine article, “Splashdown — Le Mans in 1970 was Wet and Wild.”

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1971 — Porsche’s 2nd Le Mans 24 Win

The 1971 39th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Grand Prix of Endurance proved victorious for Porsche once again.  The field contested the race on June 12 and 13, 1971.  What a field it was, too.  At the start of the race, this time there were 33 Porsche race cars starting among the entire field of 49 entrants.

This year was the first running of the No. 23 Martini Racing team “Pink Pig” Porsche 917/20 as cheeky sequel to last year’s Martini team “Hippy Car” or “Psychedelic Porsche” 917 LH.

A Porsche 4.9-liter flat-twelve propelled the oinker.  Reinhold Joest (DEU) and Willi Kauhsen (DEU) rode the buckin’ Pig to an unfortunate DNF because of an accident about 12 hours into the race.

Gijs van Lennep and Helmut Marko Snagged Porsche’s 2nd Le Mans 24 Victory in 1971

The checkered flag dropped on the No. 22 Martini Racing team Porsche 917 K-71 of Gijs van Lennep (NLD) and Helmut Marko (AUT).  Following behind them to ascend to the second step of the podium was the No. 19 John Wyer Gulf Racing team Porsche 917 K-71 of Richard Attwood (GBR) and Herbert Muller (CHE).

A Porsche 4.9-liter flat-12 powered both top-podium finishers.

Porsche thus enjoyed its second overall Le Mans victory.  The Stuttgart sports-car manufacturer also found great pride in the fact that six Porsche 911 entries found themselves in the dozen of classified finishers.

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1976 — Porsche’s 3rd Le Mans 24 Win

Porsche’s third overall win came in 1976 during the 44th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Grand Prix of Endurance.  That year’s granddaddy of endurance races ran on June 12th and 13th, 1976.

The ruling body of the Le Mans 24 — the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), or the International Automobile Federation — shook things up this year by shuffling the deck of regulations governing the various Group classifications.  Among other things, the FIA introduced new Group 5 and Group 6 regulations, as well as opened the race up to nine individual classes.

Porsche was all over this, as the company’s motorsport division was and is so inclined whenever there are significant rule changes.  Porsche had new models that it wanted to introduce into the racing world.  So the company entered the 934 race car into Group 4, the 935 in Group 5 and the embryonic 936 in Group 6.

Turbocharging was coming of age in the racing world.  Porsche was at the forefront to exploit the use of turbochargers.  In fact, all told, there were more than a dozen of such forced-induction entries fielded by a number of manufacturers.  Seventeen turbocharged racecars made the journey to the Circuit de la Sarthe.

At the time, Porsche utilized state-of-the-art Kühnle, Kopp & Kausch Company turbochargers.  Porsche used these turbos in not only in their own works cars, but also supplied Kühnle, Kopp & Kausch-turbocharged engines to its privateering customer teams.

Overseeing the deployment of these turbocharged engines was none other than Porsche engineering mastermind Norbert Singer.  Between 1970 and 1998 Mr. Singer played a major role in every one of Porsche’s 16 overall race wins in that exhilarating racing timeframe for Porsche.

Finally, worthy of note is that this Le Mans 24 marks the first time in history that Ferrari didn’t field an entry since 1947, the year of the company’s founding.

Jacky Ickx and Gijs van Lennep Broke on Through to the Other Side to Garner Porsche’s 3rd Le Mans 24 Victory in 1976

Out of Sarthe’s waning pre-dawn inky murk of Sunday morning, the No. 20 Porsche 936-002 and its Porsche 2.1-liter flat-six emerged and careened on and on and continued to perform magnificently.

Conversely, the No. 40 Martini Racing Porsche System works team Porsche 935 struggled to catch up but fate intervened first to cause precipitate an ignition snafu, and then to trigger its Porsche 3.0-liter flat-six turbocharger collapse.

The No. 20 Martini Racing Porsche System factory team Porsche 936-002 Spyder persevered to smirk in the face of ever-threatening attrition in attendance at any 24-hour race.  Its Porsche 2.1-liter turbo flat-six propelled the No. 20 Porsche to final victory — winning the 1976 24 Hours of Le Mans overall, Porsche’s third such triumph.

This memorialized for the record books the first turbocharged racer to win at Le Mans.  Jacky Ickx (BEL) and Gijs van Lennep (NLD) practically coasted in the 936 turbo to victory.

The No. 20 Porsche 936-002’s win proved rather embarrassing for other manufacturers.  That is, the No. 20 Porsche reveled in an insurmountable 11-lap margin when it took the checkers — even in spite of suffering a ruptured exhaust pipe threatening to take out the turbocharger that took over half an hour to repair in the pits on Sunday morning.

Porsche also clinched a class win in Group 5.  The No. 40 Martini Racing Porsche System works team Porsche 935 hung in there to snag that Group 5 victory.  It also finished with a very respectable fourth position overall.

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1977 — Porsche’s 4th Le Mans 24 Win

In 1977, the 45th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Grand Prix of Endurance took place on June 11th and 12th.  Porsche entered its 936, hoping to win again this year as it had done in 1976.

Powered by its Porsche Type 935 2.1-liter turbo flat-six, The No. 3 Martini Racing Porsche System factory Porsche 936/77 of Porsche legend Jacky Ickx (BEL) and Le Mans legend Henri Pescarolo (FRA) completely loses it engine early on in the race.

Jürgen Barth, Hurley Haywood and Jacky Ickx Tag-Teamed Their Way to Porsche’s 4th Le Mans 24 Victory in 1977

With nothing else better to do after his engine went kaput, Mr. Ickx switched intramural factory teams.  He joined the team of Jürgen Barth (DEU) and Hurley Haywood (USA) in the No. 4 Martini Racing Porsche System factory Porsche 936/77 with the same turbocharged flat-six as the sister car.

Experiencing less-severe mechanical troubles as well, the No. 4 936/77 dropped down in the field like a rock to 42nd place.  Somehow all three drivers managed to move back up in the field throughout the rainy, foggy blur of night.

By the end of the race, the No. 4 Martini Racing Porsche System factory Porsche 936/77 had muscled its way to the head of the class to finish first in the 1977 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The amazing thing about the victory was that the No. 4 Porsche 936/77 accomplished this on only five of its six cylinders, coughing up billows of smoke along the way but finishing the race nonetheless.

This was Porsche’s fourth overall Le Mans triumph.

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1979 — Porsche’s 5th Le Mans 24 Win

Since the dawning of Porsche’s involvement in motorsports, the marvelous marque from Stuttgart typically pursues a no-nonsense, straight-as-an-arrow approach to racing.  Nonetheless the participation of one of Porsche’s privateers in the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans reeked of notoriety and intrigue.

But we’ll get back to dishin’ that dirt in a moment.

This was the 47th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Grand Prix of Endurance, which unfolded on June 9 and 10, 1979.  By this time, the racing-modified versions of the Porsche 911 street-production car — especially the 935 Turbo — started coming into their own battling on racetracks around the world.

The 935’s thoroughbred turbocharged Type 935 3.0-liter flat-six engines certainly didn’t hurt.  So it’s no wonder that Porsche’s customer teams bought up the Porsche 935 in droves — and the 935 started winning races in droves too…

“From-Le Mans-to-Ex-Cons” Brothers Whittington Miraculously Scored Porsche’s 5th Le Mans 24 Victory with Klaus Ludwig in 1979

The customer squad in question was the Porsche Kremer Racing Team.  The team was led, of course, by Porsche privateering icon Erwin Kremer.  Mr. Kremer’s lead driver was Klaus Ludwig (DEU), who did most of the heavy lifting during this 1979 running of Le Mans in the No. 41 911-based Porsche 935 Kremer K3 Turbo 3.0 that year.

Mr. Ludwig did have teammates sharing driver duties with him, of course.  They were none other than the drug-smuggling, “from-Le Mans-to-ex-cons” brothers Bill Whittington (USA) and Don Whittington (USA).

Ultimately, the Porsche Kremer Racing privateering team’s No. 41 Porsche 935 K3 won the race with its Porsche Type 935 3.0-liter turbo flat-six engine.  Winning with 8 laps ahead of its next competitor, the No. 41 Kremer scored Porsche’s fifth overall Le Mans 24 victory.

Now back to dishin’ it…

In due course it came out in the dirty laundry’s wash much later that the Whittington brothers bought their seats in the No. 41 Porsche 935 Kremer Turbo with ill-gotten funds from drug-smuggling(!) activities.  Both brothers ultimately served prison sentences for their illicit activities.  Check out the following YouTube video for more dish…

Second place went to another 911-derived race car, Dick Barbour Racing’s No. 70 Porsche 935 Turbo 3.0, driven by Dick Barbour (USA), movie-star Paul Newman (USA) and Rolf Stommelen (DEU).

Another Porsche Kremer Racing entry, the No. 40 Porsche 935 Kremer 77A Turbo 3.0, garnered third place, helmed by Laurent Ferrier (FRA), François Sérvanin (FRA) and François Trisconi (FRA).

Adding insult to injury to the prototypes in the race, this was the first time that a production car-derived race car not only won Le Mans, but swept all three steps on the overall podium.

The first- and third-place finishes of the Kremer Team triggered a deluge of orders for Erwin Kremer’s 935 turbo race cars from privateers around the world, as well.

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Porsche’s 1981 through 1987 24 Hours of Le Mans Record-Setting Winning Streak

1981 — Porsche 6th Le Mans 24 Win

The 49th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Grand Prix of Endurance took place on the 13th and 14th of June, 1981.  Obviously, no one knew it at the time, but this was the dawning of Porsche’s momentous seven-year winning streak on the hallowed grounds of the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Earlier, Porsche had heard it through the international grapevine of global motorsports that a move was afoot to shake up Le Mans 24 regulations again.  Specifically, word got out that the FIA was once again going to introduce a new sports-car category, perhaps as early as the 1982 Le Mans 24.

So, as always, the Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen manufacturer worked on getting out in front of the game.  Hence Porsche rushed to develop a new race car to fit as optimally as possible within the new category.

Ultimately, the tentative modifications to the regulations solidified and came into sharper focus:  The new category came to be known as Group C, which consolidated the FIA’s Group 6 category and the ACO’s GTP category.

Usually, such changes place emphasis on engine-power limitations — like the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) in North America shrewdly instituted at this same time instead of adopting the Group C regulations.  That is, IMSA limited a race car’s power by focusing on the implementation of inlet air restrictors.

But this was not the case for the regulations of Group C, this time around.  Instead, Group C focused on restrictions on fuel consumption.  In other words, the goal was to level the playing field for smaller turbocharged engines to compete on “equal footing” with larger, naturally aspirated engines.

In the January 2020 issue (No. 754) of the Porsche Club of America’s Porsche Panorama magazine, Porsche engineer extraordinaire Norbert Singer explained, “The Group C was a formula based purely on consumption.  At the beginning, you were allowed 600 liters and five fill-ups for one 1000 km race.”

Mr. Singer should know — he was Porsche’s architect-in-chief of the seemingly invincible 956 and its evolutionary 962 incarnation that dominated Group C for many years.

Enter the new 936/81 race car which Porsche wanted to “test run” in this 1981 race as prelude to hitting the ground running and going balls to the wall in the new Group C designation during its inauguration in the 1982 Le Mans 24.

There was absolutely no time to waste.  The last-minute decision to contest that year’s Le Mans 24 was made less than a year before the rapidly looming race to come in June.  Basing the 936/81 on the 936 Spyder which won Le Mans in 1976 and 1977, Porsche, needless to say, fast-tracked R&D and final production.

Barely in the nick of time, Porsche fielded two finished 936/81 factory entries without benefit of customary Le Mans pre-testing, which was suddenly cancelled that year.  The two factory entries sported a new 4-valve, twin-turbo 2.6-liter flat-six engine boasting unprecedented water-cooled heads.

Lo and behold, both virgin 936/81 entries turned out to be the quickest qualifiers in the field.

Jacky Ickx, Once Again, and Derek Bell Captured Porsche’s 6th Le Mans 24 Victory in 1981

Unknowingly launching Porsche’s seven-year consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans winning streak, Derek Bell (GBR) and Jacky Ickx (BEL) co-piloted the Porsche System works No. 11 Porsche 936/81 to resounding victory in the 1981 24 Hours of Le Mans with the greatest of ease.

The No. 11, Chassis No. 936-003, held the lead after Hour 1 and never ever looked back.  Ickx and Bell’s lead grew by a greater and greater margin to the point where they won the race by 14 laps, almost an hour ahead of its next second-place rival.

This was great news for Ickx, whom Porsche had coaxed out of retirement just for this race to help break in the new 936/81.  This made him a five-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, breaking fellow Belgian Olivier Gendebien’s 1962 record.  This was no trifling feat for Ickx, as Gendebien was considered one of the greatest sport scar racers of all time by a consensus of accounts.

For those of us who are beginning to lose count, this was Porsche’s sixth overall Le Mans 24 victory.  As an added bonus the win came on the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG’s founding, as well as 30 years after Porsche’s inaugural start in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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1982 — Porsche’s 7th Le Mans 24 Win

The 1982 24 Hours of Le Mans and Grand Prix of Endurance was the 50th running of the race at the Circuit de la Sarthe.  It entered the Porsche record books as the beginning of Porsche’s awesome winning streak on June 19 and 20, 1982.

So the 1981 Le Mans-winning Porsche 936/81 proved to be worth its weight in gold for Porsche.  In other words, the 936/81 proved to be the perfect genetic precursor to the 956 that Porsche would develop for competition in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and other international races for next few years.

Here is how Mr. Singer described the 956 in the aforementioned Porsche Panorama article:  “…we built a race car with an aluminum monocoque, ground effects, and a turbocharged six-cylinder boxer engine with four valves and water-cooled heads.”

Mr. Singer went on to elaborate that Porsche somehow had to figure out how to construct a viable monocoque for a sports car, as well as how to apply ground effects for the first time in a sports car.

Ground effects, or methods, based on physics, of accomplishing aerodynamic downforce for a racecar, were first employed in Formula 1 and much later in American IndyCar.  Downforce ground effects for a sports car in competition had no precedent because the shape of a typical sports car racer varied tremendously from that of a Formula 1 race car.

Obviously, though, Mr. Singer must have figured this all out.  Don’t believe me?  Please refer to “Porsche’s Record-Setting Winning Streak” documented herein, for which he is largely responsible.

So the 1982 24 Hours of Le Mans marks Porsche’s Lucky Number 7 overall victory.  Here is how it all played out.  You’re going to have to ask yourself if this is this a Ripley’s Believe It or Not milestone, or what?

And Yet Again, Derek Bell and Jacky Ickx Scored Porsche’s 7th Le Mans 24 Victory in 1982

The Rothmans Porsche System works team entered three Porsche 956 Type 935 2.6-liter turbo flat-six-engine race cars.  And as that aforementioned luck would have it, all three works cars ended the race by their car numbers thus:

More giddy serendipity ensued.  Two other Porsche race cars finished right behind all of the factory boys in fourth and fifth:

  • The John Fitzpatrick Racing No. 79 Porsche 935/78 — notoriously known as “Moby Dick” — finished fourth, piloted by John Fitzpatrick (GBR) and David Hobbs (GBR), and powered by the Porsche Type 935 2.7-liter turbo flat-six
  • The Cooke Racing No. 78 Porsche 935 K3 rounded out the top five, helmed by René Metge (FRA), François Sérvanin (FRA) and Dany Snobeck (FRA), and powered by the Porsche Type 935 2.8-liter turbo flat-six

How’s that for the start of an unprecedented record-breaking winning streak?  Can you say, “preordained destiny,” anyone?

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1983 — Porsche’s 8th Le Mans 24 Win

Perfection is rarely achieved.  But Porsche as a major player in global motorsports came close to utter perfection in the 1983 24 Hours of Le Mans.  The 51st 24 Hours of Le Mans and Grand Prix of Endurance took place on June 18 and 19, 1983.

Boding well from the beginning for the Rothmans Porsche works team was Jacky Ickx (BEL) capturing pole position in the No. 1 Rothmans Porsche 956.  Mr. Ickx set fastest lap at 3:29.070.

The Rothmans Porsche works team entered three Porsche 956 race cars with the Porsche Type 935 2.6-liter turbo flat-six engine.  Unfortunately, the No. 2 Rothmans Porsche of Jochen Mass (DEU) and Stefan Bellof (DEU) collected a DNF in 27th position.  The No. 2 Porsche suffered engine failure.

Conversely, the remaining two Rothmans Porsche entries appeared to be on the verge of basking in the glory of Le Mans excellence for Porsche once again.  Following hot on their heels of imminent success was a swarm of privateer Porsche 956 race cars holding the rest of the field at bay.

In the No. 3 Rothmans Porsche 956, Al Holbert (USA) had victory well in hand as the race waned in its closing laps.  But then suddenly something went horribly wrong.  The 956’s new water-cooled heads started overheating.  It was discovered later that the overheating resulted from a blockage of airflow in the radiator.

So on the last lap, No. 3’s engine seized up, rudely snatching Mr. Holbert’s defeat from the jaws of victory.

But not so fast, Buster.  We’re talking about the Eighties — Porsche motorsport’s halcyon days and years of racing in the late twentieth century.  After all, there’s a winning streak for the Stuttgart deities yet to maintain and sustain.  Right?

Hurley Haywood, Al Holbert and Vern Schuppan Saved the 24-Hour Day in Triumph at the Top of the Podium, Winning Porsche’s 8th Le Mans 24 Victory in 1983

With the Swabian divinities smiling down on this seemingly doomed American, Holbert at last fired the No. 3 Porsche 956 back up, and not a moment too soon.

Mr. Holbert and his smoldering 956 hobbled across the hallowed Le Mans start/finish line ahead of the entire field, a too-close-for-comfort 17 seconds ahead of Derek Bell (GBR) in his No. 1 Rothmans Porsche 956 finishing in second place.

But it must be stressed that the No. 3 Rothmans Porsche 956 barely made it across that finish line, concealed in an uncanny fog.  For once victory was celebrated in glorious billows of smoke — rather than going up in smoke as it almost had.

Fellow American Hurley Haywood (USA) and Vern Schuppan (AUS) shared not only driving duties, but also that glory and sweet-but-smoky smell of Le Mans success garnered by Mr. Holbert.

Finishing in second place, Mr. Bell’s No. 1 Rothmans Porsche 956 careened around Le Mans with Jacky Ickx (BEL) contributing his fair share of superlative driving duties, too.

Ascending to the third step of the all-Porsche podium was the All-American superstar-piloted No. 21 Rothmans Porsche 956 race car.  I say “superstar-piloted” car because it was muscled around the famed Circuit de la Sarthe by racing-dynasty father and son Mario Andretti and Michael Andretti, and A-List movie star Paul Newman.

As alluded to above, the 1983 24 Hours of Le Mans ended in near Porsche perfection, with a pack of nine Porsche race cars finishing in the Top Ten in this order:

  1. Rothmans Porsche factory team (DEU) No. 3 Porsche 956
  2. Rothmans Porsche factory team (DEU) No. 1 Porsche 956
  3. Porsche Kremer Racing (DEU) No. 21 Porsche 956
  4. Sorga S.A. / Joest Racing (DEU) No. 12 Porsche 956
  5. John Fitzpatrick Racing (GBR) No. 16 Porsche 956
  6. Sorga S.A. / Joest Racing (DEU) No. 8 Porsche 956
  7. Obermaier Racing (DEU) No. 18 Porsche 956
  8. Canon Racing / GTi Engineering (GBR) No. 14 Porsche 956
  9. Sauber Team Switzerland (CHE) No. 46 Sauber BMW C7 [ my emphasis added]
  10. Preston Henn T-Bird Swap Shop (USA) / John Fitzpatrick Racing (GBR) No. 47 Porsche 956

The marketing department of Porsche+Audi of North America ran with these slightly-less-than-unanimous official results to create the classic, immortal poster below — which cracks wise a pithy quip precisely about those very same standings:

History of Porsche’s 19 overall wins at 24 Hours of Le Mans: Depicted here is the classic cheeky poster, "Nobody's Perfect," listing Porsche's 9 of 10 overall finishing positions during the 1983 24 Hours of Le Mans. Credit: Porsche + Audi
Credit: Porsche+Audi

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1984 — Porsche’s 9th Le Mans 24 Win

Well, apparently someone couldn’t take a joke about Porsche “imperfection.”  Obviously, that “someone” was Le Mans entity Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), perhaps fearing Porsche was almost too, too perfect in 1983.

As a result, the ACO abruptly changed the rules to Porsche’s ostensible detriment.  These changes concerned fuel-allocation and fuel-consumption regulations — just three months prior to the 1984 race.  Consequently, the Rothmans Porsche factory team boycotted the 52nd running of the 1984 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Left sitting on the race sidelines were all Porsche factory drivers except for Vern Schuppan (AUS).  Mr. Schuppan hopped aboard the No. 11 Porsche Kremer Racing Porsche 956 B.  His No. 11 Porsche came in sixth, co-piloted by fellow Aussie Alan Jones (AUS) and Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jarier (FRA).

Despite the rash regulation change and resulting factory boycott, the fourteen 956 Porsche privateer teams scored almost as well as in the 1983 Le Mans final standings.  Porsche 956 race cars took eight of the top 10 places that year — not bad in the wake of the draconian rule changes and subsequent boycott.

Privateers Klaus Ludwig and Henri Pescarolo Reign Supreme, Winning Porsche’s 9th Le Mans 24 Victory in 1984

The No. 7 New-Man Joest Racing team Porsche 956 B took first place overall.  Under the power of their No. 7 Porsche Type 935 2.6-liter turbo flat-six engine, Klaus Ludwig (DEU) earned his second Le Mans win and Henri Pescarolo (FRA) won his fourth and last Le Mans 24.

Porsche customer teams occupied all three steps of the podium at the end of the 1984 24 Hours of Le Mans:

  1. New-Man Joest Racing No. 7 Porsche 956 B (mentioned above)
  2. Henn’s T-Bird Swap Shop No. 26 Porsche 956 of John Paul, Jr. (USA) and Jean Rondeau (FRA) with a Porsche Type 935 2.6-liter turbo flat-six
  3. Skoal Bandit Porsche Team and John Fitzpatrick Racing’s No. 33 Porsche 956 B of revered David Hobbs (GBR), Philippe Streiff (FRA) and Sarel van der Merwe (ZAF), powered by a Porsche Type 935 2.6-liter turbo flat-six

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1985 — Porsche’s 10th Le Mans 24 Win plus Hans-Joachim Stuck’s Historic Moment

A year after its boycott of the 1984 Le Mans 24, the Rothmans Porsche works team returned to compete in the 53rd running of 1985 24 Hours of Le Mans.  The homecoming proved somewhat anticlimactic, though, in comparison to 1984’s tour de force.

It was on June 16 and 17, 1985, that the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Grand Prix of Endurance entered the record books for Porsche’s yet-again-superlative performance.  Yet 1984’s performance was a very hard act to follow, one that could scarcely be topped.  So 1984 was the glaring exception to the rule.

1985 certainly proved the rule.  The Rothmans Porsche factory team’s best finish was “To Show,” in horse-racing parlance.  The No. 2 Rothmans Porsche factory team Porsche 962 C was a new race car for Porsche, one that would come into its own in the ensuing years.

This No. 2 962 C was co-piloted by Derek Bell (GBR) and Hans-Joachim Stuck (DEU), who both landed on the third step of the podium.

Hans-Joachim Stuck’s 32-Year-Old Fastest-Lap Le Mans Record

In any case, Mr. Stuck accomplished something quite extraordinary that year in 1985, or in any other year for that matter.  Mr. Stuck set perhaps one of the longest-lasting records in the annals of global endurance racing.

For 32 years Mr. Stuck held his Le Mans record for fastest lap with an average speed of 156.471 mph (251.815 km/h) which he set during qualifying at this historic 1985 race.

Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) finally broke Mr. Stuck’s record in 2017 in his much, much more technologically advanced LMP1 Toyota Hybrid.

Paolo Barilla, Klaus Ludwig and “John Winter” Drove Home Porsche’s 10th Le Mans 24 Victory in 1985

The Rothmans Porsche factory team’s return to the Le Mans 24 was a tepid homecoming.  However, the marque of Porsche nonetheless clinched its tenth overall victory at the 1985 24 Hours of Le Mans.  Granted, a privateer finished first instead of a Porsche factory pilot, but a win is a win is a win for Porsche.

That win was won yet again by Klaus Ludwig (DEU), his third overall victory, in the No. 7 New-Man Porsche 956 B with its type 935 2.6-liter turbo flat-six.  Moreover, this was his second overall win in a row, again in the same Porsche 956 B (Chassis No. 956 B-117) in which he took overall first place in the 1984 Le Mans 24.

Paolo Barilla (ITA) and “John Winter” (aka Louis Krages) (DEU) shared driving duties with Mr. Ludwig.

Incidentally, much earlier Mr. Krages quietly assumed his “John Winter” “nom de zoom” pseudonym in order to keep mum from dear old Mum his pursuits in dangerous and deadly auto racing.

Quite ironically, by accident Mum discovered his undercover racing career all on her own, to her abject horror.  While reading the newspaper one day, there in the pages of newsprint she caught sight of a news photograph of her dearest son reveling jubilantly atop the podium — after winning this very 1985 Le Mans 24-Hour race!

The No. 14 Richard Lloyd Racing 956 GTi earned second place overall as driven by Richard Lloyd (GBR), Jonathan Palmer (GBR) and James Weaver (GBR), and powered by its Type 935 2.6-liter turbo flat-six.

The No. 2 Rothmans Porsche factory team Porsche 962 C-003 of Derek Bell (GBR) and Hans-Joachim Stuck (DEU) as previously mentioned earned the final step on the 1985 24 Hours of Le Mans podium.

The next best finish for the Rothmans Porsche works team was tenth place.  Porsche accomplished this with the new No. 1 Porsche 962 C, driven by Jacky Ickx (BEL) and Jochen Mass (DEU).

The 1985 Le Mans 24, parenthetically, was Jacky Ickx’s (BEL) last Le Mans 24.  All told Mr. Ickx won 6 times at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France over the course of his illustrious racing career.

Finally, the third Rothmans Porsche factory team car, the No. 3 Porsche 962 C of Al Holbert (USA), Vern Schuppan (AUS) and John Watson (GBR), suffered a DNF in 32nd place.

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1986 — Porsche’s 11th Le Mans 24 Win

The 54th running of 24 Hours of Le Mans and Grand Prix of Endurance unfolded a little earlier in the year than usual on May 31 and June 1, 1986.  There loomed the tasty prospect of Porsche extending its winning streak for yet another year.

But, in retrospect, a black cloud stills hangs over the memory of the 1986 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Around 2:10 a.m. on Sunday morning, June 1st, the No. 10 Porsche Kremer Racing Porsche 962 C of Jo Gartner (AUT), Kunimitsu Takahashi (JPN) and Sarel van der Merwe (ZAF) suffered a catastrophic crash.

Jo Gartner helmed the wheel at the time.  Mr. Gartner made his way along the famed Mulsanne Straight.  His race car careened down the long straightway at over 150 miles an hour.  Accounts reported that the race car suddenly whipped hard-left into the barriers and cartwheeled, crashing into a utility pole and some trees before bursting into flames after ricocheting across to the opposite side of the track.

It was also reported that Mr. Gartner died instantly from a broken neck.  While the cause of the accident was never officially determined, race marshals on the scene stated seeing the No. 10 Porsche brake extremely hard just before whipping violently and sharply into the barriers.

One account alleged that Mr. Gartner’s gearbox failed, locking up the car’s rear wheels at full speed down the Straight, causing the accident.  This sounds more plausible than Mr. Gartner slamming on the brakes for no apparent reason.

Derek Bell, Al Holbert and Hans-Joachim Stuck Made Second Time the Charm, Seizing Porsche’s 11th Le Mans 24 Victory in 1986

Despite this devastating, heart-wrenching tragedy, the 1986 Le Mans 24 resumed after several hours of barrier repairs.  At the finish, Porsche assumed its eleventh overall Le Mans 24 win in 1986.  In fact, Porsche swept the podium yet again that year:

  1. Rothmans Porsche No. 1 Porsche 962 C of Derek Bell (GBR), Al Holbert (USA) and Hans-Joachim Stuck (DEU), powered by its Porsche Type 935 2.6-liter turbo flat-six. Second time must be the charm in this case because this 962-003 chassis is the very same one that came in third place last year.
  2. Brun Motorsport’s No. 17 Porsche 962 C of Joël Gouhier (FRA), Oscar Larrauri (ARG) and Jesús Pareja (ESP), powered by its Porsche Type 935 2.6-liter turbo flat-six
  3. Joest Racing’s star spangled banner-liveried No. 8 Porsche 956 of George Follmer (USA), John Morton (USA) and Kenper Miller (USA), running off its Porsche Type 935 2.6-liter turbo flat-six

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1987 — Porsche’s 12th Le Mans 24 Win

The 55th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Grand Prix of Endurance got back to the usually scheduled time of the year, on June 13 and 14, 1987, as opposed to last year’s running.

This year’s race at the Circuit de la Sarthe proved very problematic at first for the Rothmans Porsche works team.  Some of the team’s race cars crashed before the race, and mechanical gremlins wreaked havoc before and during the race.

Engine problems stemmed from the common source of faulty or improperly fitted microchips.  Functioning supposedly to regulate optimal fuel management, the chips instead caused the engines to run too lean.

This lean mixture over the course of an endurance race like the Le Mans 24 definitely had an extremely adverse effect on the pistons.  Ultimately this caused the pistons to burn out.

In preparation for the race in the preceding months, the Porsche factory readied three 962 C race cars and one 961 for Le Mans.  But then, Mr. Stuck crashed the slated spare car on the test track at Weissach.

A second crash involved the No. 19 Rothmans Porsche works team Porsche 962 C.  It was completely destroyed at Le Mans during one of the practice sessions.

Derek Bell, Al Holbert and Hans-Joachim Stuck Hung in There by Their Fingernails, Eking Out Porsche’s 12th Le Mans 24 Victory in 1987

So now there were only two works 962 C race cars and one works 961 race car remaining to contest the race.

Scratch that.

The Porsche Type 935 3.0-liter turbo flat-six engine suddenly took a dump inside the No. 18 Rothmans Porsche factory team Porsche 961.  The No. 18 scored a DNF, in 39th position.

The co-drivers were Jochen Mass (DEU), Vern Schuppan (AUS) and Bob Wollek (FRA).  But only Mr. Mass got to drive the No. 18 Rothmans Porsche factory car, as it suffered those aforementioned engine troubles in Hour 1 of the 1987 Le Mans 24.

And then there was one.

The No. 17 Rothmans Porsche factory team Porsche 962 C of Derek Bell (GBR), Al Holbert (USA) and Hans-Joachim Stuck (DEU) persevered to score Porsche its 12th Le Mans victory in 1987.  It was the last car running out of all of the four cars that the Porsche factory had slated for the 1987 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Porsche power again swept the 1987 Le Mans 24 podium.

The 962 C cars in this race, incidentally, deployed the first-of-its-kind secret weapon for Porsche — the dual-clutch transmission.  This was primeval predecessor to the refined, record-setting Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK) automatic transmissions found in Porsche production cars and race cars of today.

On the podium’s second step was the Primagaz Competition No. 72 Porsche 962 C, powered by a Type-935 2.8-liter turbo flat-six.  Piloting the No. 72 962 C was the driving team of Bernard de Dryver (BEL), Jürgen Lässig (DEU) and Pierre Yver (FRA).

On the third step was the Cougar C20 race car powered by a Porsche Type 935 2.8-liter turbo flat-six.  Yves Courage (FRA), Pierre-Henri Raphanel (FRA) and Hervé Regout (BEL) helmed the C20.

Making it a consecutive Top 4 Porsche rout was fourth-place Porsche Kremer Racing’s No. 11 Porsche 962 C of George Fouché (ZAF), Franz Konrad (AUT) and Wayne Taylor (ZAF), with a Type-935 2.8-liter turbo flat-six.

Alas, this marks the end of Porsche’s 1980s record-setting winning streak.  Now it’s on to the Nineties and Porsche’s next overall win.

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Conclusion to the History of Porsche’s 19 Overall Victories at 24 Hours of Le Mans

1994 — Porsche’s 13th Le Mans 24 Win

Indeed, then came the Nineties.  Porsche picked up where it left off, from winning its record-setting streak of seven overall Le Mans victories back in the Eighties.

This was the 62nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Grand Prix of Endurance.  The race took place on June 18 and 19, 1994.

But there was a slightly new twist to the proceedings this time around.  This was the dawning of Porsche’s production-based cars coming into their own not only to compete successfully at Le Mans, but also to win outright over the traditionally faster Le Mans prototypes.

This race, parenthetically, also marked the birth of the LMP1 class, the fastest prototype grouping on the track.

As an adjunct governing body of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) endeavored to level the playing field once again.  The ACO gave the new production-based GT1 class race cars a little more equal footing with the prototype race cars.  Thus the GT1 cars gained the novel prospect of perhaps winning outright.

Specifically, the ACO modified the rules and regulations governing homologation of the GT1 and GT2 cars.  For the GT1 class in particular, homologation could be officially requested even if production cars didn’t yet exist for making application to participate in the 24-hour race.

Or, much more critical to our discourse here, homologation could also be based on a pre-existing automobile model.

 


StuttgartDNA Sidebar:

Homologation can be defined as the following language illustrates:

The approval process in motorsports by which a race car is required to undergo certification to compete in a given race series or championship racing association.  The goal is to ascertain conformance with pre-determined technical standards and regulations as established by a series’s or championship racing association’s sanctioning body.

A major component of homologation is the requirement that a minimal amount of production cars for legal street use have to be produced in order for the race car based on that production car to be allowed to participate in a racing series or association.


 

The foregoing changes in the rules opened the door ajar for deft, yet legit sleight of hand with the new loopholes.  Case in point was Porsche, which used the pre-existing decade-old 962 C for its request of homologation certification.

Mauro Baldi, Yannick Dalmas and Hurley Haywood Overcame Mechanical Adversity, Earning Porsche’s 13th Le Mans 24 Victory in 1994

So here’s how Porsche followed through with this in 1994.

With Porsche’s tacit blessing, German fashion mogul Jochen Dauer and his Dauer Sportwagen firm fashioned a production iteration after the decade-old Le Mans-conquering Porsche 962.  From there, Mr. Dauer and company produced two Le Mans-worthy Dauer 962 race cars to compete in the GT category to be fielded by veteran Joest Racing.

I’d say “and the rest is history,” but then I’d be getting slightly ahead of myself and the story — not to mention expressing a very stale cliché.

Anyhow, the Le Mans Porsche Team supported the two Dauer Porsche 962 entries, both powered by Porsche Type 935 3.0-liter turbo flat-six engines.

Despite the fact that both Dauers were prone to unstable driveshaft issues throughout the race, they wound up on the top and bottom steps of the podium despite running in the slower, new GT1 class:

  • Coming in first place overall was the No. 36 Le Mans Porsche Team works Dauer 962 Le Mans — driven by Mauro Baldi (ITA), Yannick Dalmas (FRA) and Hurley Haywood (USA), and powered by a Porsche Type 935 3.0-liter turbo flat-six engine
  • Crossing the finishing line not far behind the sister car in a close third place overall was the No. 35 Le Mans Porsche Team works Dauer 962 Le Mans — piloted by Thierry Boutsen (BEL), Le Mans-perennial Hans-Joachim Stuck (DEU) and Danny Sullivan (USA), with a Porsche Type 935 3.0-liter turbo flat-six engine

Check out these interesting tidbits about the 1994 24 Hours of Le Mans:

  • The No. 52 Larbre Competition Porsche 911 964 scored the best position for a 964 at Le Mans in eighth place, to that point in time — piloted by Dominique Dupuy (FRA), Carlos Palau (ESP) and Jesús Pareja (ESP)
  • The No. 58 Seikel Motorsport Porsche 968 Turbo RS was the only 968 ever to race in a Le Mans 24, enduring a DNF, though — one of four Turbo RS 968s ever produced — helmed by Thomas Bscher (DEU), John Nielsen (DNK) and Lindsay Owen-Jones (GBR).

Interestingly, the factory did not field any LMP1 entries.  This derived from lessons learned during the 1994 24 Hours of Le Mans when the two Porsche-powered Dauer 962 GT1-class entries finished first and third overall.

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1996 — Porsche’s 14th Le Mans 24 Win

The 64th running of the 1996 24 Hours of Le Mans occurred on June 15 and 16, 1996.

As the race approached, the Porsche factory team was all-in for the first time in a while.  The Porsche factory gave its full-throated support to its two Porsche 911 993 GT1 entries.

This generated a measure of controversy at the time.  Some observers in the racing world scoffed at the Porsche 993 GT1 entries.  These critics alleged that the GT1 wasn’t truly a Porsche 911, as Porsche had declared it to be for homologation.

Further grumblings involved another allegation that Porsche finessed the homologation rules and regulations like it had done for the Dauer-Porsche just before the 1994 Le Mans 24.  It was frowned on that Porsche had acquired homologation despite constructing only two finished, drivable cars.

In any case, The Porsche GT1 was not only the first mid-engined Porsche, but its purpose-built 3.2-liter flat-six twin-turbocharged engine was also water-cooled(!).  This was unheard of for a Porsche flat-six at the time.  Nonetheless, the Porsche 993 GT1 was an awesome machine.  Its first-time outing in this race proved it.

Privateers Davy Jones, Manuel Reuter and Alexander Wurz Stole the Show, Pinching Porsche’s 14th Le Mans 24 Victory in 1996

Yet, an LMP1 prototype ended up winning first overall.  It was the No. 7 Joest Racing TWR Porsche WSC-95, powered by a Porsche Type 935 3.0-liter turbo flat-six.  Davy Jones (USA), Manuel Reuter (DEU) and soon-to-be Formula 1 driver and Le Mans-rookie Alexander Wurz (AUT) shared driving chores in the TWR.

Nonetheless, the Porsche factory team had nothing to be ashamed of during this iteration of the Le Mans 24.  The works GT1-entry drivers stood on the podium along with the No. 7 TWR Porsche WSC-95 pilots.

Second place went to the No. 25 Porsche AG factory team Porsche 911 GT1, with its Porsche 3.2-liter turbo flat-six.  Thierry Boutsen (BEL), Hans-Joachim Stuck (DEU) and Bob Wollek (FRA) shared driving duties this time out.

The No. 26 Porsche AG factory team Porsche 911 GT1, also powered by a Porsche 3.2-liter turbo flat-six, held on to third place.  Yannick Dalmas (FRA), Scott Goodyear (CAN) and Karl Wendlinger (AUT) kept podium possibilities alive for the Porsche AG factory team, too.

As a side note, the 1996 Le Mans 24 proved to be Derek Bell’s (GBR) racing swan song, closing out a career of 25 years on the racetrack.  To his credit, he won five Le Mans races and finished in second place twice.  He also held three Daytona 24 victories.  He was 54 years old upon retiring.

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1997 — Porsche’s 15th Le Mans 24 Win

The 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans was the 65th running of the Grand Prix of Endurance.  The Porsche AG factory team didn’t fare as well this year as it had during last year’s 1996 Le Mans 24.

The race occurred on the 14th and 15th of June, 1997.  Porsche AG entered two new Porsche 911 996 GT1 cars in the race:

Unfortunately, both factory cars incurred DNFs.  The No. 25 retired as a result of Wollek thrashing the transmission after crashing in to some curbing.  The No. 26 went up in flames on the track.

That spelled the end for the Porsche AG factory team, but the marque of Porsche itself nonetheless garnered its 15th overall victory during this 1997 Le Mans 24.

Michele Alboreto, Stephan Johansson and Tom Kristensen Outclassed Much More Affluent Teams to Finesse Porsche’s 15th Le Mans 24 Victory in 1997

Trouncing multiple, much more well-heeled factory teams was the No. 7 Joest Racing TWR Porsche WSC-95 entry, powered by a Porsche Type 935 3.1-liter turbo flat-six.  Michele Alboreto (ITA), Stephan Johansson (SWE) and Tom Kristensen (DEK) brought the WSC-95 home in first place overall.

The No. 7 Joest TWR Porsche had more than a lap lead over the second-place finisher.

Both known the world over as a Le Mans institution by this time, the Joest Racing team owned by Reinhold Joest won this 1997 Le Mans 24 with the same TWR chassis from last year’s 1996 Le Mans 24-winning car.

Joest Racing also boasted back-to-back wins with the same 956 chassis during the 1984 Le Mans 24 and 1985 Le Mans 24.  As of this writing, Joest Racing holds the record for most wins by a privateering team — at 13 victories for the Joest Racing Team.

After the debut success of the Porsche GT1 last year, Porsche customers bought and entered many Porsche privateer GT1 and GT2 cars.  Whereas the Porsche team cars were Type 996-powered GT1 race cars, the privateering Porsche cars were Type 993-powered GT1 and GT2 race cars.

Here are some other 1997 Le Mans 24 best results for Porsche entries:

  • Highest GT1 entry:  No. 33 Schübel Engineering’s Porsche 911 GT1 with a Porsche 3.2-liter turbo flat-six finished in fifth place overall — co-pilots were Patrice Goueslard (FRA), Armin Hahne (DEU) and Pedro Lamy (PRT)
  • Highest GT2 entry:  No. 78 Elf Haberthur Racing’s Porsche 991 GT2 with a Porsche 3.6-liter turbo flat-six finished in ninth place overall, and first place in class — co-driven by Jean-Claude Lagniez (FRA), Guy Martinolle (FRA) and Michel Neugarten (BEL)

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1998 — Porsche’s 16th Le Mans 24 Win

Although Porsche AG may or may not have not known it at the time (although I believe they did, judging from some accounts), this was the Porsche factory team’s last hurrah at Le Mans for quite some time.

And, boy, did the factory team go out with a bang — as well as a whimper — during the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans.  This was the 66th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Grand Prix of Endurance, taking place on the 6th and 7th of June, 1998.

First, the whimper.  Bad news first, then good news.

In addition to its GT1 entries, Porsche AG also fielded two LMP1 prototypes.  In short, the Porsche works team wanted to cover all bases during this veritable swan song.  Here they are:

Unfortunately, both Porsche AG prototypes took major dumps ultimately and earned themselves two unceremonious DNFs.  There, that’s the bad news, Cliff Notes® style.

Now on to the swan song, but glorious good news:

Laurent Aïello, Allan McNish and Stéphane Ortelli Cashed in Porsche’s 16th Le Mans 24 Victory in 1998 as the Very Last Triumph in the Twentieth Century

It’s too bad that the other factory teams suffered mechanical issues as well as accidents during the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans.  Such is the nature of any Le Mans 24-Hour endurance race.  Yet such maladies ushered in Porsche’s 16th win during the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Here’s how Porsche’s 16th victory in the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans all played out:

  • First place — No. 26 Porsche AG works team Porsche 911 GT1-98, powered by a Porsche 3.2-liter flat-six.  Laurent Aïello (FRA), Allan McNish (GBR) and Stéphane Ortelli (MCO) shared driving duties.
  • Second place — No. 25 Porsche AG works team Porsche 911 GT1-98, powered by a Porsche 3.2-liter flat-six.  Uwe Alzen (DEU), Jörg Müller (DEU) and Bob Wollek (FRA) co-drove the No. 25 911 GT1-98.

In the wake of the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans, Porsche AG started turning its attention away from racing, and on to new horizons involving a tack in course relative to its production cars.

Our beloved Ferry Porsche had left us forever to our own devices just less than 3 months earlier, on March 27, 1998 — a very, very sad, solemn day.  So it’s no wonder that a flurry of reassessments and reevaluations were in order, and maybe even long overdue.

For example, the possibility of Porsche producing its first Porsche SUV(?!) had been percolating to the surface.  We came to learn later that Porsche had been mulling over something to come to be known as a “Cayenne” — unheard of, until the seemingly endless avalanche of sales receipts started pouring into the Porsche coffers…

Also in the works was another Porsche supercar to succeed the 959 after many fallow years.  Since Porsche was diverting its attention away from racing, the V10 prototype project embryo slated for vying in the 2000 Le Mans 24 had arrived stillborn.  Or maybe not.

The left-for-dead V10 prototype project seemingly overnight morphed into what we have come to love, admire and adore — the Porsche Carrera GT…

So the end of the 1998 Le Mans 24 was the beginning of a relatively long drought of Porsche overall wins.  The next Porsche win wouldn’t occur until the second decade of the twenty-first century…

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2015 — Porsche’s 17th Le Mans 24 Win

Well, the winless drought was finally over.  We could revel in the joy and jubilation of Porsche returning to its winning ways.  Wow, and they won in a big, big way, to run consecutively in the ensuing years.

After Porsche’s first foray to Le Mans last year, Porsche AG entered the 83rd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans to win its first Circuit de la Sarthe race in almost two decades since winning in the Nineties, on June 13 and 14, 2015.

Porsche AG developed its last prototype, the RS Spyder, in conjunction with the Roger Penske’s Team Penske.  Porsche and Penske introduced the RS Spyder prototype way back in 2005.

To enter as well as to make such a big splash at last year’s Le Mans 24, Porsche AG unveiled the awesome Porsche 919 Hybrid.

First introduced to the automotive world at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show, the Porsche 919 Hybrid was designed to race in the Le Mans Prototype 1 (LMP1) class.  It sported an innovative monocoque descended from the 911 GT3 R Hybrid and the 918 Spyder supercar.

Two energy-recovery systems powered the Porsche 919 Hybrid:

  • A kinetic energy system, at the front of the car, via a motor-generator unit (MGU) on the front axle converted kinetic energy into electrical energy when braking, to be stored in the car’s water-cooled lithium-ion battery packs
  • A thermal energy system, at the rear of the car, utilized a two-turbine electric generator, recovering and converting thermal energy from the prototype’s exhaust gases

The Porsche 919 Hybrid also employed a V-4 (at 90 degrees) mono-turbo, mid-mounted gasoline engine generating 500 hp (370 kW) and running at 9,000 rpm.  The chassis consisted of carbon-fiber composite containing a honeycomb aluminum core.

The Porsche factory team entered three 919 Hybrids as they had done a year earlier:

  1. The red No. 17 Porsche AG Team factory team Porsche 919 Hybrid, powered by a Porsche 2.0-liter turbo V-4.  Timo Bernhard (DEU), Brendon Hartley (AUS) and Mark Webber (AUS) helming the No. 17 car.
  2. The black No. 18 Porsche AG Team factory team Porsche 919 Hybrid, powered by a Porsche 2.0-liter turbo V-4.  Romain Dumas (FRA), Neel Jani (CHE) and Marc Lieb (DEU) driving the No. 18 car.
  3. The white No. 19 Porsche AG Team factory team Porsche 919 Hybrid, powered by a Porsche 2.0-liter turbo V-4.  Earl Bamber (AUS), Nick Tandy (GBR) and Nico Hülkenberg (DEU) helming the No. 19 car.

The three Porsche 919 Hybrid entries qualified 1, 2, and 3, with the following prototypes, respectively:  No. 18, No. 17, and No. 19.  In the process, Mr. Jani in the No. 18 Porsche 919 Hybrid set a new record lap time of 3:16:887.

The last time Porsche qualified in the top three was in 1988.  But the best factory result back then was the second-place finish of the No. 17 Porsche AG factory team Porsche 962 C of Derek Bell (GBR), Klaus Ludwig (DEU) and Hans-Joachim Stuck (DEU).

Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy and Nico Hülkenberg Restored Stuttgart’s Winning Ways with Porsche’s 17th Le Mans 24 Victory in 2015, Porsche’s Very First Twenty-First Century Le Mans Win

The three Porsche LMP1 teams found themselves in the fortunate position of first, fourth and fifth places nine hours into the race.  Yet Audi continued to vex matters.

At race’s end, Mr. Hülkenberg drove the No. 19 Porsche AG factory team Porsche 919 Hybrid to Porsche’s 17th victory in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans.  Messrs. Bamber and Tandy shared driving duties to emerge victorious with Mr. Hülkenberg for Porsche’s first Le Mans victory since 1998.

Second place fell to the No. 17 Porsche AG Team factory team Porsche 919 Hybrid, with Mr. Hartley behind the wheel.  Messrs. Bernhard and Webber co-piloted the No. 17 car with Mr. Hartley.

Unfortunately, the third Porsche AG entry, the No. 18 Porsche 919 Hybrid prototype, wound up in fifth place overall.

There was an “honorable mention” in the class of GTE Am for Porsche.  The No. 77 Dempsey-Proton Racing 991 RSR, powered by a Porsche 4.0-liter flat-six, garnered second place in class.  This earned the No. 77 Porsche 22nd place overall.  Hollywood actor Patrick Dempsey (USA), factory team driver Patrick Long (USA) and Marco Seefried (DEU) co-piloted the Porsche 991 RSR.

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2016 — Porsche’s 18th Le Mans 24 Win

As we all know, thee Big Kahuna of global sports-car endurance races is called the 24 Hours of Le Mans — not the “23 Hours and 57 Minutes of Le Mans.”  I’ll get back to the significance of that wacky proclamation in a moment…

So the 84th running of the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans took place on June 18 and 19, 2016.  Corporate-parent Volkswagen allowed only two LMP1-class cars each for Porsche and for Audi, not three prototypes each as in last year’s race.  So that lowered Porsche’s odds of winning this year.  You do the math.

The Porsche factory team entered these two 919 Hybrids in 2016 which qualified in the following order:

  1. The No. 2 Porsche AG Team factory team Porsche 919 Hybrid, powered by a Porsche 2.0-liter turbo V-4.  Marc Lieb (DEU), Romain Dumas (FRA) and Neel Jani (CHE) co-piloted the No. 2 car.
  2. The No. 1 Porsche AG Team factory team Porsche 919 Hybrid, powered by a Porsche 2.0-liter turbo V-4.  Timo Bernhard (DEU), Brendon Hartley (AUS) and Mark Webber (AUS) co-piloted the No. 1 car.

After such a triumphant qualification, the No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid sustained serious over-heating issues.  Adding insult to injury, the lengthy repair time totally took the No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid out of top contention.

Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani Shocked and Awed and Utterly Broke Hearts Big-time in the Toyota Ecosystem with Porsche’s Last-Minute 18th Le Mans 24 Victory in 2016

In the end, it was a veritable fait accompli for Toyota to the win the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans.  Done deal.  Game over!

But wait, not so fast!  So now let’s get back to the significance of not being able to call the 2016 race the “23 Hours and 57 Minutes of Le Mans.”

The No. 5 Toyota LMP1 prototype led the No. 2 Porsche AG Team factory team Porsche 919 Hybrid by 28 seconds with one hour left in the race.  Done deal, right?  Well, with the very last 3 minutes left in the 24-hour — or 1,440-minute — race, the No. 5 Toyota choked.  Big-time.

The No. 5 Toyota wound up dead in the water, stalling out on the front straight.  As could be seen on the live TV feed inside the Toyota garage, the Toyota team expressed utter, dejected heartbreak at the superlative dejection of losing the race.

To wit, the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid prototype whooshed past the disabled No. 5 Toyota to clinch victory at the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans.

What a difference 3 minutes makes in a 24-hour race.

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2017 — Porsche’s 19th Le Mans 24 Win

Could “third time be the charm”?  Hmmn?  Let’s see what we shall see, and how it all played out, shall we?

This was the 85th running of the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans.  This was also the Porsche AG factory team’s fourth time in a row running its awesome 919 Hybrid prototypes in the Circuit de la Sarthe classic, the granddaddy of all worldwide sports-car endurance events.

In addition, after Toyota’s bitter loss last year, the Japanese multinational automobile manufacturer was bound and determined to win this 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Bolstering Toyota’s hope and resolve before the race was the fact that during this year’s qualifying, Kamui Kobayashi set an all-time new lap record.  Hence Mr. Kobayashi broke Hans-Joachim Stuck’s 32-year-old record set during the 1985 53rd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Grand Prix of Endurance.

Corporate-parent Volkswagen limited both Porsche and Audi to only two prototypes again this year.  Here were the Porsche entries:

2017 Le Mans 24 Race Start

So on to the race.  It did not take very long for the motorsport gremlins to leap into action, pestering the Porsche 919 Hybrid prototypes.

The Porsche AG works team No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid race car experienced major power trouble about three-and-a-half hours into the race.  The culprit was its electric motor running the front axle.  The mechanics and engineers worked feverishly for about an hour in the pits to replace the motor-generator unit (MGU).

Upon completion of the repairs, the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid found itself 19 laps down in the field, in a dismal 56th place.

Meanwhile, the No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid battled for quite some time with the No. 8 Toyota over second place.

Apparently snake-bit yet again this year, the Toyota team suffered MGU failure in the No. 8 Toyota too.  Then clutch problems with the No. 7 Toyota took their toll.  Complicating matters more, the No. 7 Toyota got fatally punted from behind by the No. 25 Oreca in the LMP2 class.

Sole-survivor No. 8 Toyota was still in the race, but far, far down in the crowded field.  Hence game over for Toyota’s hopes to rebound from last year’s debacle.

So one team’s downfall is another team’s windfall.  And so it went for Porsche.  For the moment…

But then suddenly things went horribly wrong for Porsche just before midnight — the Porsche AG factory team No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid blew its V-4 engine.  Kaput!  Of all times for this to happen, the No. 1 Porsche was an astounding 14 laps out in front of a second-place LMP2 prototype.

Hats Off to Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley for Not Only Snatching Porsche’s 19th Le Mans 24 Victory in 2017, But Also for Ending Porsche’s WEC Run with Such a Three-Wins-in-a Row Bang

So now it was all up to the Porsche AG factory team No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid prototype, so far driven masterfully by Earl Bamber (AUS), Timo Bernhard (DEU) and Brendon Hartley (AUS).

All the way from plummeting to 56th place, the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid gained position after position after position like The Little Engine That Could muttering to itself, “I think I can, I think I can!”  The No. 2 Porsche passed race car after race car, penultimately with only three LMP2 prototypes running between it and P1, the No. 2 919 Hybrid slogging ever onward and upward.

Then it happened.  Within the last two hours of the 85th running of the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans, the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid snatched the lead away from the LMP2 front-runners, the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca and the No. 13 Rebellion Oreca (which was disqualified post-race).

The No. 2 Porsche finished the 24-hour marathon of marathons about a lap ahead of the second-place No. 38 Jackie Chan Oreca car.

HAT TRICK!

The Porsche AG works team accomplished the elusive Hat Trick pursued in every sport — victory for three consecutive contests in a row.  The Porsche works team won the 2015, 2016 and 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans in a triumphant sweep.

This was the Porsche AG works team’s last hurrah at Le Mans.  The company put the 919 Hybrid prototypes and program in mothballs.

Porsche AG then turned its attention to competing in Formula E.  This move seems to telegraph Porsche’s desire to jump on the bandwagon of electric mobility, the next bastion of power.  This all seems to dovetail and coincide with Porsche’s release and distribution of its first electric car, the Taycan, in a variety of models.

So Porsche had one heck of a run over the last 50 years.  As of this writing, Porsche AG holds a record 19 wins at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France, known the world over simply as Le Mans.

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