You know what happened at Le Mans this year. Although Porsche had locked up qualifying with their two cars and had led the race earlier in the day, the surprisingly fast and durable Toyota was running in first place toward the end of the race. Chances for a Porsche victory hovered between miniscule and nonexistent. Yet, hounded by the Porsche 919 Hybrid running a minute or so behind, the lead Toyota abruptly gave up the ghost shortly before the 24 hour clock ran down and failed to finish. T-shirts proclaiming the hoped-for Porsche 18th Le Mans victory that had already been packed away had to be relocated for the surprise Porsche celebration in the suddenly elated Porsche pits. Jubilation tempered by sympathy for a worthy opponent.
But—did you know it had all happened once before, 22 years ago? That was the year that Porsche was running a most unusual car, derived from a street car which itself had been derived from a race car. Jochen Dauer had introduced a luxurious, road-going version of the 962 at the Frankfurt auto show the previous year, and the decision was made to produce a racing version of this and run it in the lower GT1 class—ostensibly looking for a class win rather than an overall. Different rules in GT1 permitted cars that were more powerful and carried more fuel, but they had to be heavier and run with smaller tires than the top GTP class in which Toyota had entered its two 3.5 liter twin turbo V8s. A trade-off, permitted by a canny interpretation of the rules, but not without risk.
This was our first trip to Le Mans, and I was keen to see Porsche get the victory over this Asian interloper. Burning film like a madman, I got this shot at the esses just before the turn onto the pit straight. As the race went forward, both the prototype Toyota and the GT1 Porsche led at one time or another and both teams had their problems just as they did this year. The two factory Porsches, #35 and #36, were dogged by the need for frequent tire changes and one of the Toyotas was in the lead late in the race on the second day. Things looked bad. But only minutes before the end of the 24-hour ordeal, the then-leading Toyota broke a shift linkage and limped into the pits. The #36 Porsche moved smartly into the lead, where it finished some 10-miles ahead of the cars left to duel for second place. Strange game, racing.