Porsche at Le Mans: A Brief History

M13_3242_fine
As the most successful manufacturer in the history of the Le Mans 24-hour race, Porsche tackles the 83rd running of the world’s most famous long distance event on Saturday with a record contingent.

In addition to the works teams contesting the LMP1 and GTE-Pro classes, three customer outfits will also race for honours in the GTE-Pro and GTE-Am categories at round three of the Sports Car World Endurance Championship. This makes Porsche the only manufacturer who is represented in three of four categories at the classic event in the French province of La Sarthe. Twenty-seven Porsche pilots from twelve countries are at Le Mans, 16 of them Porsche works drivers.

M13_3231_fine

Since 1951, Porsche has contested the 1923-inaugurated race every year without break – more often than any other manufacturer. All in all, 770 race cars (GT and prototypes) have raced here, 382 of which finished in the points. In 1971, Porsche set a record for eternity: Of the 49 vehicles to start, 33 were Porsches. Porsche’s other Le Mans records include 16 pole positions and 50 podium placings – 16 firsts, 17 seconds and 17 third place results. The first of 16 outright Porsche victories went to Richard Attwood (GB) and Hans Herrmann (D) with the Porsche 917 KH Coupé in 1970, the last time was in 1998 with Laurent Aiello (F), Stéphane Ortelli (MC) and Allan McNish (GB) in the Porsche GT1.

Again this year, the race on the 8.5 mile Circuit des 24 Heures is attracting the world’s best sports car drivers and around 260,000 fans. Even Hollywood set a cinematic monument with the classic: The 1970 film “Le Mans” is regarded as one of the best racing movies ever made. Walking in the footsteps of the main character and Porsche pilot Steve McQueen this year is Patrick Dempsey (“Grey’s Anatomy”, “Transformers”).

This year marks the third time that the American actor and race driver has raced at Le Mans with Porsche and he is undoubtedly the most prominent competitor. “There’s something magical about coming to Le Mans. Porsche’s great Le Mans victories were part of my childhood and youth. It’s incredibly special to contest this classic with Porsche.”

Traditionally for Porsche, a race like Le Mans is not only about competing at the highest level. Rather, the race track is more of a testing ground for new technologies. The development of successful race cars like the 919 Hybrid and the 911 RSR as well as being put to the test under tough racing conditions offer critical insights that can be incorporated in to the design of future generations. The latest example of a successful technological transfer is the hybrid super sports car, the 918 Spyder. The exclusive expertise in the development of downsizing turbo-engines is “elementary for Porsche,” said Wolfgang Hatz, Board Member for Research and Development at Porsche AG. “We will soon equip all derivatives of our iconic 911 with turbocharged engines.”

This type of technology transfer from race car to standard vehicle as the driving force behind Porsche’s motorsport involvement was already in Ferry Porsche’s (1909 – 1998) mind when he said: “Technical progress is unthinkable without sport. It is the vector for development. The extreme demands we face on the race track very quickly highlight any weak points and encourage our engineers to look for new and better solutions.”

The Porsche teams and drivers at Le Mans 2015
LMP1 class

Porsche Team, Porsche 919 Hybrid
#17: Timo Bernhard (D), Brendon Hartley (NZ), Mark Webber (AUS)
#18: Romain Dumas (F), Neel Jani (CH), Marc Lieb (D)
#19: Earl Bamber (NZ), Nico Hülkenberg (D), Nick Tandy (GB)

GTE-Pro class
Porsche Team Manthey, Porsche 911 RSR
#91: Michael Christensen (DK), Richard Lietz (A), Jörg Bergmeister (D)
#92: Patrick Pilet (F), Frédéric Makowiecki (F), Wolf Henzler (D)

GTE-Am class
Dempsey Proton Racing, Porsche 911 RSR
#77: Patrick Dempsey (USA), Patrick Long (USA), Marco Seefried (D)
Abu Dhabi Proton Racing, Porsche 911 RSR
#88: Christian Ried (D), Khaled Al Qubaisi (UAE), Klaus Bachler (A)
AAI Motorsports, Porsche 911 RSR
#68: Han-Chen Chen (TWN), Gilles Vannelet (F), Mike Parisy (F)
AAI Motorsports, Porsche 911 GT3 RSR
#67: Jun-San Chen (TWN), Alex Kapadia (GB), Xavier Maassen (NL)

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on RedditEmail this to someone