Porsche and the legend of Le Mans
Le Mans winner Timo Bernhard talks to some of Porsche Motorsport’s most influential figures about the world's toughest race
Every year since 1951, at least one Porsche racing car has taken the start at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Over that period, the team has enjoyed a record 108 class wins and 19 overall victories. Now, some 70 years after that first chequered flag, Porsche is taking an in-depth look at the most prestigious endurance race in the world over six new episodes of ‘Porsche Moments’.
In the first episode, host and Le Mans winner Timo Bernhard talks to Fritz Enzinger, who led the team to three overall victories at Le Mans as Vice President Motorsport. In episodes 2 to 5, he meets Walter Röhrl, Hans-Joachim Stuck and Norbert Singer and invites both drivers and race engineer to recount their Le Mans memories.
Episode 2 brings Bernhard and Singer together in Weissach alongside the 917 KH with which Porsche claimed its second overall victory exactly 50 years ago. “I can still remember well how the car was pushed onto the scales back then and weighed just under 780 kilograms,” says Singer, who was involved in development from 1970 to 1998. “The 917 KH was an absolute lightweight due to its tubular space frame made of magnesium.” However, the prescribed minimum weight in 1972 was actually 800kg. “Luckily it had an oil tank with a capacity of 55 litres,” Singer says with a wry smile. “So we added 20 litres of oil and weighed it again.”
The 936/81 Spyder
The third episode focuses on the 936/81 Spyder, the overall winner from 1981, and the class-winning 924 GTP Le Mans. Reigning World Rally Champion Röhrl and Le Mans winner Jürgen Barth had started out on a secret mission with a transaxle prototype of the incoming 944 with a new 2.5-litre engine. The pair finished seventh overall and won the GTP class. “When I think back to Le Mans 1981, I immediately feel 40 years younger,” says night-driving veteran Röhrl. “The competition overtook me during the day, but at night they only saw my tail lights.”
Timo Bernhard, Norbert Singer and Walter Röhrl with the 924 GTP
The overall winner that year was the 936 of Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell. “Ickx and Bell won with a lead of 14 laps – or to put it another way, they were almost an hour faster than the second-placed car,” Singer says. “The decision to take part in the 24-hour race in June was taken just a few months before. We had to really hurry up and installed a 2.65-litre biturbo engine in the 936/81 Spyder without further ado. With an output of more than 620 PS, it was one of the most powerful cars in the starting field. A little effort that led to a great success.”
Sharing episode 4 with Singer is Hans-Joachim Stuck, who drove the Porsche 962 C to back-to-back victories in 1986 and 1987. “When you drive at speeds of more than 350 km/h, the white dashes in the middle of the road look like a continuous line,” he says of Singer’s all-conquering ground effect car “Stefan Bellof gave me a tip before my first drive: ‘The faster you move in a car with ground effect, the more grip you have.”
This episode of ‘Porsche Moments’ sees a delighted Stuck reunited with his winning car on the test track in Weissach, with close friend Singer reminiscing on the challenges of the race itself: “It rained all the time,” he says, “and the quality of the petrol provided was not good. It was OK in training, but the fuel for the race was really poor.” Nevertheless, Stuck and teammates Derek Bell and Al Holbert won the race with an incredible 20 lap lead. “Porsche keeps on winning in Le Mans because all those involved work very professionally from preparation right through to the end,” says Stuck.
Singer’s 16th and final win at Le Mans cane with the 911 GT1 ’98, the subject of the penultimate episode of ‘Porsche Moments’. “We won the race because the GT1 ’98 was the most reliable car in the starting line-up,” the straight-talking Singer says. In a poetic coincidence for Porsche’s ingenious race engineers, 1998 was also Porsche’s 50th anniversary.
The 919 Hybrid
The new ‘Porsche Moments’ series will go live from 28 July and on 25 August, the Museum will broadcast a final episode from Weissach with Fritz Enzinger that will focus on the hat-trick winning 919 Hybrid.
In addition to the ‘Porsche Moments’ series, Porsche will also be staging a global roadshow to celebrate its Le Mans story. Running until spring 2022, the show is scheduled to take in 14 stops in ten countries, including France, Great Britain, the USA, China, the United Arab Emirates and Germany. Porsche enthusiasts can look forward to static and dynamic appearances from more than 20 Le Mans winning cars. The Le Mans theme will also be reflected in Porsche Experience Centres worldwide alongside appearances at events such as at the Monterey Car Week in California.