Words By: Raul Gutierrez
Photos By: TED7
The rearing black horse of Stuttgart made its first appearance on the grid at Le Mans in 1951. Two aluminum-bodied 356s entered, but one crashed in practice, while the other finished 20th of the day. Although the following decades would be filled with narrow defeats, numerous top 10 finishes, and several “best in class” victories, the top spot on the podium eluded the best teams the Porsche factory and privateers could put forth. In 1970, the spell was broken by a 917K driven by Richard Attwood and Hans Hermann. Through 1988, Porsche more than made up for the drought with 14 first place finishes, including several editions where they swept the podium.
Despite a 1st and 3rd place finish by the Dauer 962 in 1994, many believed that all the performance had been wrung out of the 962 blueprint that had dominated in the 80s. In 1995, Norbert Singer initiated the development of the 911 GT1, a car that would push the limits of endurance racing and regulations. The 90s were a special era in Le Mans racing because materials and technology reserved for prototype classes and Formula One made their way into specially modified road cars. Many of the top contenders of the era featured high displacement 12-cylinder engines with lightweight composites implemented wherever possible, and the first iteration of the GT1 instead relied on a mid-engine 3.2-liter flat-6 housed in a tube frame chassis covered with carbon fiber and Kevlar body panels.
The 911 GT1’s Le Mans debut in 1996 put the competition on notice. The car took first in the GT1 class and narrowly missed out on an overall victory to a Porsche-powered TWR prototype. Porsche had relatively poor showings in the rest of the 96 series and scrambled to make improvements to compete against the likes of McLaren. These changes proved insufficient to take any major victories when the BPR series became the FIA GT Championship in ‘97, but the 911 was always in the mix, consistently finishing within the top ten places. Redemption at Le Mans came in 1998 only when Porsche engineers completely redesigned the GT1 with a full composite chassis, a 3.6-liter turbocharged engine, and a sequential gearbox. Despite having less power than the competition, the GT1 earned its 1st and 2nd places with superior agility and reliability.
The car featured in The Porsche Effect is chassis #101 which competed at Le Mans, Sebring, and Laguna Seca. Porsche constructed a small series of GT1s for the 1997 FIA GT Championship, all of which were based on 911 GT2 Works team cars. It also won the Three Hours of Zhuhai in China and successfully competed in the British GT Series. In sum, this GT1 won eight races and achieved 21 podium finishes of the 36 competitions in which it was entered.