Amazing to think that in Porsche’s illustrious endurance racing history, the 911 GT1 remains confined to the shadows.[Not a valid template]
That may seem a little harsh, considering that the GT1’s victory at Le Mans came at only its third attempt, but the statistics speak for themselves. The GT1’s triumph at La Sarthe is its only contribution to Porsche’s 16 outright victories at the event, six of which were concurrently provided by the 956/962 (and only Audi’s R8 has beaten the 956’s four-win record in Le Mans’ 90-year history). From the GT1’s 144 starts it took 47 wins, an impressive 30 percent success rate yet one still beaten by the 956’s staggering 75 percent success thanks to 75 wins from 107 starts. Against an all-conquering AMG Mercedes-Benz in the newly christened FIA GT1 Championship in 1997 and 1998, the GT1 fell by the wayside taking zero victories compared to 16 for the CLK-GTR/LM and five for the BMW-run McLaren F1 GTR.
All fairly conclusive then. That is until we remember which model took Porsche’s last outright victory at La Sarthe, and clocked one of the fastest speeds down the Mulsanne Straight to this day at just shy of 330kph. Upon its return to Le Mans next year – as part of ‘Mission 2014’ – it will be 16 years since Porsche was on the top step at Le Mans, a result achieved by the 911 GT1, Laurent Aiello, Stéphane Ortelli, and Allan McNish, the first of the Scotsman’s three La Sarthe victories to date. Rubberstamping the achievement, Jorg Muller, Uwe Alzen and Bob Wolleck made it a one-two in the sister Porsche AG 911 GTR, finishing three laps ahead of the third-placed Nissan R390 GT1.
Rewind just three years however and Porsche was on the backfoot. A dominant performance by the McLaren F1 GTR – which secured not only outright victory with Yannick Dalmas, J. J. Lehto and Masanori Sekiya, but also three of the top four top sports – highlighted that fully-fledged GT machine was the way forward in endurance racing, and though the prototype Porsche WSC-95 would take two wins on the bounce in 1996-1997 with Joest Racing, the time had come for Norbert Singer to design a new GT Le Mans winner based on the company’s flagship 911. Heath Robinson would have been proud as Singer began his project by essentially welding the front of a 993-spec 911 GT2 to the rear end of a 962 with a tubular frame encompassing both. It saved on crash test legislation and also allowed room for a mid-mounted twin-turbo 3.2-litre flat-six and a more aerodynamically profficient carbon fibre bodyshell.
Demonic pace ensued, much to the opposition’s chagrin (it wasn’t too long before calls of foul play were being uttered up and down the paddock), and though victory ultimately went to Manuel Reuter, Alexander Wurz and Davy Jones in the WSC-95, the 911 GT1 cemented an all Porsche podium at La Sarthe at its first attempt. That 1-2 in 1998 was the perfect swansong for Porsche.