At the first Rennsport Reunion, I was given the assignment to “judge” the 917 class in the concours alongside Vic Elford. I use the quotes quite intentionally, as my qualifications were pretty thin compared to Vic’s, and we had no specific instructions as to what was expected of us, other than to not take it too seriously. With that in mind, we spent a very pleasant time walking about and looking at a group of extraordinarily handsome automotive brutes, while I hung on his observations and quietly enjoyed being seen with this famous man. Our activity eventually devolved into my asking him “Vic, did you drive this one back then? That one?” After a little head scratching, the answer would be “yes—at Monza” or some such. Although he drove pretty much everything at one time or another, from a Ford Anglia through F1, his 917 experience was—and is–amazing.
All racing drivers who circle in this this small, tight, first-tier orbit have a list of qualifications: technical skill, aggressiveness, a strong will to win, experience, judgment, course reading and memory, and the magic sauce of something in their genetic code. Elford has an important, although nonessential additional quality: he looks like a racing driver. Chiseled features, strong jaw, burning eyes, and a serious demeanor: a wonderful photographic subject.
The accompanying image shows him quietly studying the instruments in the famous #23—the bright red 917 K that in 1970, 28-years before, began Porsche’s long string of victories at Le Mans. Ironically, he was not in that car that day, although he was driving the #25 sister car on the same team and was listed as an alternate to Attwood and Hermann in #23. The Elford/Ahrens car was a 917 LH, fitted with both the aerodynamic Le Mans extended tail section and a larger engine. It was blindingly fast, and Elford put it on the grid in first place, qualifying 15 positions above the red car. But the racing gods are fickle, especially at Le Mans, and qualifying is not a 24 hour race. Their 917 LH engine blew after 225 laps, and at the end of that very long day #23 rolled into history. I wonder what Vic was thinking as he sat in that car 28-years later.