In the revival of sportscar racing in the form of the BPR Global GT Series in 1994, Porsche expressed interest in returning to the highest level of sportscar racing. In a field where cars are incredibly modified versions of road cars such as the Ferrari F40 and the McLaren F1, Porsche surprised the entire field by developing an entirely new car. That car was the 911 GT1.
The GT1's exterior actually wasn't entirely influenced from the Porsche (993) 911, with the 911 influence only being the front chassis. The rest of the car was retrieved from the Porsche 962, including its twin turbo six cylinder engine mounted to the middle of the car. Overall, the car produced around 592 horsepower.
When the GT1 was put to the straining test of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1996, the car took outright victory in its class. The overall win, however, was taken by another Porsche, namely the WSC-95 of Joest racing. The GT1 also took wins in other races of the series, including Brands Hatch and Spa-Francorchamps.
In 1997, a new series in the form of the FIA GT Championship replaced the BPR Series, and the new series was dominated by the Mercedes CLK GTR. For the GT1, however, it failed to compete with both the CLK GTR and the F1 GTR, and failed to win a single race. So, Porsche improved on the GT1 for the 1997 season, calling it the Evo. Performance was still the same, being that the Evo used the same twin turbo flat six from 1996, although new aerodynamics improved the acceleration, while top speed still remained the same at 330 km/h at Le Mans. The Evo failed to finish the race though, and was again defeated by the F1 GTR. The Evo finished 5th in class and 3rd overall.
For the 1998 season, Porsche had to completely redevelop the GT1, making it the GT1-98. The new car featured a body work that was more of a sports-prototype other than the succeeding models. The GT1-98 was also built with a sequential gearbox. The 911 GT1-98 still failed to catch up to the also improved Mercedes CLK GTR, and the new Toyota GT-One.
1998 LE MANS, ON THE OTHER HAND, TOLD A DIFFERENT STORY.
The Mercedes CLK GTR suffered problems with the oil pump in their V8, while Toyota's GT-One also had problems, this time with the gearbox. Those problems gave way for Porsche to make a 1-2 finish in their final run in Le Mans for 16 years, until their return in 2014.
The 911 GT1-98 racing in Le Mans. Note the V12 LM and the CLK GTR in the background. (dedeporsche.com)
Due to the regulations of GT1 competition, Porsche made 25 road going versions of the 911 GT1, dubbed the "Straßenversion", meaning "street version". The car was slightly de-tuned from around 600 to 537 horsepower, but was still a quick car, going from 0-100 km/h in 3.9 seconds. It was fast too, with a top speed of 308 km/h. Two Straßenversion's were built with 993 headlights, the rest with 996.
The Porsche 911 GT1 might not have been able to be competitive with the other cars of its time, but with sheer ingenuity, determination, and luck, Porsche was able to grab their 15th and their 16th victory at Le Mans. The GT1 was, and will be remembered, along with the greats of the racers of Le Mans.