/Porsche: 40th Anniversary Of First Le Mans Victory

Porsche: 40th Anniversary Of First Le Mans Victory

porsche leman at Porsche: 40th Anniversary Of First Le Mans Victory

As we know Porsche has a great motoracing heritage, specially at Le Mans 24-hour. Every year they win at least in one of the categories they are attending, either with LMP or GT cars. But it all started way back in 1970, when the legendary Porsche 917 KH gained the first victory for the German car maker. That was the start of 16 overall victories in the world’s most prestigious endurance race for Porsche.

And on June 14 they will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of that memorable victory. In the last couple of years, Porsche had to rely mostly on its GT2 and GT3 cars, because their LMP1 racers have always been in the shadow of the great Audi R10 and R15, and recently the Peugeot 908, which by the way gained this year’s Pole Position as well.

Anyhow, here’s the story of that 1970 victory:

In the anniversary year of 1970, all the signs pointed towards an offensive that would finally see the much longed-for overall victory in Le Mans go to Porsche. The 917 was destined for victory, having made its debut just a year earlier. On 21 April 1969, the 25 Porsche 917s were approved by the  motor racing homologation commission. The cost of materials alone exceeded DM 5 million. The Porsche 917, developed by Ferdinand Piëch, was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show. This new ‘ultimate’ Porsche quickly caused a stir among rival competitors. Weighing in at close to the minimum weight of 800 kg, it went on to become one of the fastest and most successful racing cars of all time. The lightweight 12-cylinder engine delivered up to 580 hp at 8,400 rpm from a displacement of 4.5 litres. This enabled the long-tail version to reach speeds approaching 400 km/h (248 mph) on the 5.8 km Hunaudières straight at Le Mans.

In the run-up to the 1970 race, it was clear that the lessons learned from previous years had been worthwhile. Realising that rash manoeuvres in the first few hours of this classic endurance race would ultimately end in failure, Porsche made the experienced Hans Herrmann its first choice as driver. Herrmann, who lived close by Stuttgart in Sindelfingen, combined speed and good sense. Together with Englishman Richard Attwood, he started in the 4.5-litre short-tail version bearing the number 23, which was painted in the red and white colours of Porsche Salzburg. The team’s second car, featuring a 4.9-litre engine and long-tail body, was driven by fellow Briton Vic Elford and Kurt Ahrens (Germany). A further three Porsche 917s were entered by the British team owner John Wyer, along with the distinctive psychedelic-coloured 4.5-litre long-tail version of the Martini team. There was also an entire armada 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 as finishers. The only other cars to be classified were two Ferrari 512 S – this was out of a total field of 51 starters.

This race went down in history – and not just from the perspective of Porsche – because of the disastrous weather. Vic Elford recalled how it was sometimes impossible to overtake, even on the long straights. Kurt Ahrens described it as being like sitting in a boat. And just a few weeks after his victory, Hans Herrmann admitted that driving in the rain had prompted him to make the decision to finally hang up his helmet no matter what the outcome. When leaving his house in Sindelfingen-Maichingen, his wife had asked him when he was going to give up driving, to which he responded: “When I win.”

A promise is a promise. An hour after the start, which saw the drivers begin the race sitting in their cars instead of performing the world-famous “Le Mans start”, Herrmann was only in ninth place. The race leader was Jo Siffert, also in a Porsche 917, followed by Jacky Ickx in a Ferrari 512 S. Siffert later missed a shift and blew his engine, while Ickx crashed his red racer at the chicane. At around 6:15 p.m. came the almost unbelievable news that four Ferrari 512 S had crashed into one another in the driving rain and were out of the race. The race also took its toll on the Porsche armada, with all three 917s of the Gulf team gradually dropping out.

Now was the moment for the experienced veteran Herrmann, who had the perfect partner in Richard Attwood, to show what he could do. Under the most difficult weather conditions, he gradually moved his way up the field, guiding the Porsche Salzburg 917 confidently to the first ever overall victory for Porsche at Le Mans. He realised the significance of this moment as the race came to an end on 14 June 1970: “Wow! That may have been your last lap ever as a racing driver.”

Back home in Stuttgart, his victory was celebrated with a parade, in which he drove his winning car through the city to the market square. Thousands of people turned out to congratulate Hans Herrmann, ex-racing driver!

Porsche overall victories in Le Mans

Hans Herrmann/Richard Attwood
Porsche 917 KH

Helmut Marko/Gijs van Lennep
Porsche 917 KH

Jacky Ickx/Gijs van Lennep
Porsche 936

Jacky Ickx/Jürgen Barth/Hurley Haywood
Porsche 936

Klaus Ludwig/Bill Whittington/Don Whittington
Porsche 935 K3 Kremer

Jacky Ickx/Derek Bell
Porsche 936 81

Jacky Ickx/Derek Bell
Porsche 956

Al Holbert/Hurley Haywood/Vern Schuppan
Porsche 956

Klaus Ludwig/Henri Pescarolo
Porsche 956 Joest

Klaus Ludwig/Paolo Barilla/John Winter
Porsche 956 B Joest

Derek Bell/Al Holbert/Hans-Joachim Stuck
Porsche 962 C

Derek Bell/Al Holbert/Hans-Joachim Stuck
Porsche 962 C

Yannick Dalmas/Mauro Baldi/Hurley Haywood
Dauer-Porsche 962 LM

Manuel Reuter/Davy Jones/Alexander Wurz
TWR Joest-Porsche WSC95

Michele Alboretto/Stefan Johannson/Tom Kristensen
TWR Joest-Porsche WSC95

Allan McNish/Laurent Aiello/Stéphane Ortelli
Porsche 911 GT1 98

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(Founder / Chief Editor / Journalist) – Arman is the original founder of Motorward.com, which he kept until August 2009. Currently Arman is our chief editor and is held responsible for a large part of the news we publish.