Friday, 15 May 2009

Porsche 917 – 40th Anniversary of the Legend - Part 1

Racing in their Blood
Porsche’s history in motor sports started in baby steps.
First there were the regular cars modified for racing, such as the Gmund racers.

With their cars potential clearly evident, Porsche developed it’s own racers: there was, from that point on, a steady succession of more and more powerful purpose-made racers.

Porsche RS60 - Sebring 1960
Prismacolor on Strathmore gray archival paper 9"x 4"
© Paul Chenard 2008
Philip Powell Collection

The 550, the 718, the RSK, the RS60, the 904, 906, 908, 910 all met with success. As each new racer emerged, Porsche eyed more and more closely the possibility of an outright win at the 24 hours Le Mans.

The Beginning of the Legend

For 1968, the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI) decided that the International Championship of Makes would run 5-liter engines and to qualify, each maker had to produce a minimum of 25 cars. Porsche decided it was time to act. They took the 908 chassis, modified and strengthened it to carry a 4.5-liter flat-12 engine, while moving the cockpit forward; the 917 was born!

Corgi #385 Porsche 917 (England) 1970's

On April 20, 1969, Porsche stunned the CSI inspectors by having all 25 of the new racers ready for their viewing.

917K - The Le Mans Dynasty

The first attempt at Le Mans with the basically undeveloped new car was not successful. It was incredibly unstable at speed, with its body and suspension in need of more development. After a fatal first-lap crash of one of the new racers, all the other 917’s failed to finish, and one lone 908 finishing an extremely close second, driven by Hans Herrmann and Gérard Larrousse.

For 1970, under John Wyer’s JWA Team guidance, Porsche chopped the tail off, reshaped the body, and tweaked the suspension and tire choice. Combined, these changes created a huge difference it the 917, which became the 917K.

Porsche 917K - Le Mans 1970
Prismacolor on Strathmore black archival paper 19"x 12"
© Paul Chenard 2009
Original art available, as are limited editions.

At Le Mans, the car was unbeatable, with a win by the Porsche Salzburg team 917K No.23, masterfully driven by Hans Herrmann and Richard “Dickie” Attwood. Porsche goal to win the celebrated race came to fruition.

The wins did not stop there, with the 917Ks of JWA, Martini Racing, and Porsche Salzburg teams also winning the 24 hours of Daytona, the 1000 km of Brands Hatch, the 1000 km of Monza, the 1000 km of Spa, the 6 hours of Watkins Glen, the 500 km of Imola, the 1000 km of Zeltweg, just to name a few.

It was also had a staring role Steve McQueen’s movie “Le Mans”.

For 1971, the amazing 917 kept on winning; Le Mans, Buenos Aires, Daytona, Sebring, the Nurburgring, Monza, Spa, Zeltweg all fell to the powerful racer.

Including that first Le Mans win in 1970, Porsche has won the historic race a record sixteen times!

Steve McQueen & Le Mans 1970
Pen & ink on vellum, digitally painted
© Paul Chenard 2007

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