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Milestones: First Porsche Overall Win at Le Mans

After 4,607.811 kilometers, Porsche took first 40 years ago.

by on Jun.11, 2010

The Zuffenhausen sports carmaker had been racing at the Sarthe circuit since 1951.

It was 40 years ago this weekend that Porsche claimed its first overall win at the world’s oldest endurance race, the 24 hours of Le Mans.

Hans Herrmann and Richard Atwood driving number 23 were first across the finish line in a 917 KH from Porsche Salzburg. Gerard Larrousse and Willy Kauhsen in the Martini Porsche 917 took second, trailed by Rudi Lins and Helmut Marko in a Porsche 908/02.

It was an impressive sweep for Porsche, which had been racing on the Sarthe street circuit since 1951, with numerous class wins because of Porsche’s lightweight and aerodynamic design, as well as reliability.

Porsche had come tantalizingly near to winning outright before. In 1969, in the closest Le Mans race ever, Herrmann and Larrousse in a Porsche 908 finished just 75 meters – about one second – behind the Ford GT 40 of Jacky Ickx.

During the 20th anniversary year of 1970, there was optimism that the overall victory in Le Mans would go to Stuttgart. The Porsche 917 had made its spectacular debut a year earlier. On 21 April 1969, the 25 Porsche 917s were approved by the homologation commission. The cost of pieces alone exceeded DM 5 million.

The Porsche 917, developed by Ferdinand Piëch, was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show. Weighing close to the minimum weight of 800 kilograms, it went on to become one of the fastest and most successful racing cars of all time. The 4.5-liter 12-cylinder engine delivered up to 580 horsepower at 8,400 rpm. This allowed the long-tail version to reach speeds approaching 400 km/h (248 mph) on the 5,823 meter-long Hunaudières straight at Le Mans.

Porsche made the experienced Hans Herrmann its first choice as driver. The veteran combined speed and the sense to keep out of trouble. Together with Englishman Richard Attwood, he started in the 4.5-liter short-tail version, number 23, painted in the red and white colors of Porsche Salzburg.

The team’s second car, with a 4.9-liter engine and  long-tail body, was driven by Vic Elford and Kurt Ahrens. A further three Porsche 917s were entered by John Wyer, including the psychedelic-colored 4.5-liter long-tail version of the Martini team. There was also an entire fleet of 907, 908, 910, 911 S and 914/6 models.

At precisely 4 p.m. on 13 June, 24 Porsche cars stood at the starting line in Le Mans. By the next day there were still 12 remaining, five of which were classified. The only other cars to be classified were two Ferrari 512 S models– out of a total field of 51 starters. ( To be classified you have to cross the finish line after 24 hours and attain 70% of the winning car’s distance.)

The 917 of Herrmann and Atwood was first after 343 laps.

Porsche followed up this success with another 15 overall victories at Le Mans, the second coming a year later in 1971. In a unique Porsche 917 with a lightweight magnesium chassis, Gijs van Lennep and Dr. Helmut Marko drove to victory on a chicane-free circuit. In doing so, they set another record, which has never been broken.

The Porsche 917 completed precisely 5,335.313 kilometers and 397 laps in 24 hours, clocking an average speed of 222.304 km/h (138.140 mph). The fastest lap in the race was achieved by Jackie Oliver’s Gulf 917, with a 244 km/h (151.6 mph) average speed, while the 917 long-tail Coupé of Elford/Larrousse was clocked at a maximum speed of 386 km/h (239.8 mph) on Hunaudières in 1971.

Audi teams have won the storied competition eight of the past 10 years.

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One Response to “Milestones: First Porsche Overall Win at Le Mans”

  1. Ken Zino says:

    This year’s winners:

    Audi #9 completed 397 laps (at a speed of 225.228 kmh) – a new distance record, beating Audi #8 in second by one lap and the third Audi, #7, by 3 laps in third.

    The winning car was driven by Mike Rockenfeller, Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard.

    Car #9 was the winning number for the fifth time in the history of the race. Previously the number was carried to victory in 1925 (Lorraine Dietrich),1950 (Talbot Lago),1959 (Aston Martin) and last year 2009 (Peugeot).

    It is Audi’s 9th win – equaling Ferrari’s total. Audi is in second place behind Porsche who have 16 overall wins.

    It is the 27th time the race has been won by a German car.

    It is Michelin’s 19th victory so far.

    The first gasoline engine car was #4 Oreca on 373 laps.

    In LMP2 #42 HPD – ARX was 1st completing 367 laps, 2nd was #35 Pescarolo on 361 laps and 3rd #25 Lola on 358 laps. Car 42 also won the Michelin Green X Challenge.

    In GT1 the winner was #50 Saleen on 331 laps, 2nd was #72 Corvette on 327 laps and 3rd #52 Aston Martin on 311 laps.

    In GT2 the winner was #77 Porsche on 338 laps 2nd was #89 Ferrari on 336 laps and 3rd 97 Porsche on 327 laps.

    There were 27 classified finishers the Spyker #85 being classified last, the #11 Drayson Lola will not be classified as a finisher because it completed insufficient laps.

    The fastest lap was set by car #4 Loic Duval driving in a time 0f 3:19.074 kmh on lap 369