In the first part of this post I explained how the 917 came into production and how it made Porsche synonymous with endurance racing. This post, Part II on the history of the 917, explores some of the early problems Porsche ran into prior to their win(s) at LeMan and how the fix for those problems turned the 917 into one of the most storied Porsches ever.
When the 917 was first tested in 1969 it was anything but stable. The new “long tail” styling of the car left it very skittish and unsuited for racing. “It used all the road at speed,” according to Brian Redman (winner of the 1970 Targa Florio in a Porsche 908.) At first pass, most felt the problems resulted in an overpowered engine on an under-strengthened frame. However, after repeated modifications the problems remained. Remember, at this time Porsche was used to producing cars with low drag in order to compensate for their underpowered motors. Now, with the new 4.5 litre, 12 cylindar motor, the car was anything but underpowered. It was soon determined that all the extra power was creating additional lift on the straights (the car was 19 mph faster than anything yet raced at Le Mans.) Despite these problems Porsche pushed ahead with their racing schedule.
The 917 was entered into many races in 1969 with little to show for their efforts, expense and appearance. In fact, the instability of the 917 combined with the inexperience of British prviateer John Wolfe, resulted in a deadly first lap crash in the 1969 24 Hours of Le Mans. Even though Wolfe was not a “works” or factory driver, his death was a black spot for Porsche that took a long time to get past.
Porsche’s First Win in the 917
Porsche’s first win in the 917 didn’t come until the last race of the 1969 championship season, the 1000 km Zeltweg. Two privateers, Jo Siffert and Kurt Ahrens, succeeded in the privately entered Porsche 917 of German Freiherr von Wendt. The factory, being much more focused on development, left the racing to customer teams.
It wasn’t until 1970 when Porsche officially partnered with John Wyer and the famous Gulf Team that things started looking up for the Porsche 917. Immediate improvements/changes made to the tail of the 917 added much needed downforce, greatly improving stability and Porsche’s chance to capture the checkered flag.
In the next post I’ll explore the various 917 models. Their racing history and what’s become of the 917 today.
Porsche 917 and Making History at LeMans
Porsche 917: The Best Race Car of All Time
Video History of Porsche Racing: History of the Porsche 917 Part III
Porsche 917 Celebrates 40 Years of Racing Victory