Thank Frankel it's Friday: When Britain and Europe worked together to conquer the greatest race

11th December 2018
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Hate to bring the ‘B’-word into a column such as this, but the whole Brexit debate has made me think back to happier times of co-operation between the UK and our European chums. And I am reminded of one of the extraordinary stories in racing, one which came about through an Anglo-German alliance (forged in America oddly enough) that resulted in a five-year-old car winning Le Mans, despite the fact it wasn’t meant to be there, and then exactly the same car doing it all over again under very different circumstances the following year.


Look at photographs of the Porsche WSC95 that won Le Mans in 1996 and 1997 and then one of the Jaguar XJR-14 that won the Nürburgring round of the 1991 World Sportscar Championship and you may not think they have not a thing in common. In fact they are the same car. This is how it happened:

The 1991 XJR-14 was designed by Tom Walkinshaw Racing (by Ross Brawn, as it happens), took Teo Fabi to the title that year and has been described by Martin Brundle as ‘the best car I ever raced’. But it never did Le Mans because the big banger XJR-12s with their 7.4-litre V12 motors were considered more suited to twice around the clock racing than the XJR-14 with its F1-derived 3.5-litre Ford HB V8 motor. Three were built but two were then sufficiently damaged in 1992 to end their contemporary racing careers.

By 1994 it was a museum piece, but Porsche wanted a car to race at the Daytona 24hrs and Sebring 12hrs so TWR’s Tony Dowe and Alwin Springer from Andial (Porsche’s US race team) agreed to convert the XJR-14 into an eligible machine, fit it with Porsche’s flat-six engine, and create an identical second car from a TWR-supplied tub. And that’s how the WSC95 was created.


Except it didn’t race in America because the authorities thought Porsche was sandbagging in practice for Daytona and gave it ballast and restrictor penalties for the race. Porsche, more than a little piqued at the suggestion, told them what they could both with both their penalties and their race. So that was that.

We now spool forward to 1996 where we find none other than Reinhold Joest (whose team Joest Racing was already a double Le Mans winner for Porsche) for once short of a car to enter for Le Mans. Porsche by then was doing its own GT1 car, so was happy simply to rent the WSC95s to Joest with – and this bit is important – a deal which said that if Joest Racing happened to win the race, he could keep the winning car.

And much to everyone’s surprise win it did, beating the factory cars not just because the WSC95 was the quickest car out there but because Joest was the best team. His crew, car and drivers ran a perfect race: it led all bar 18 of the 354 laps it completed and spent less time in the pits than any other car.

By 1997 Porsche seems not to have wanted Joest to race the now ancient WSC95, presumably because having been beaten once, it feared it might happen again and it didn’t want anyone to get in the way of the GT1’s chances. But Joest no longer needed to rent a car because, thanks to the deal, he already owned the ’96 winner. This time it was not as quick as Porsche’s own cars, but when they retired through mechanical failure, it swept to the most unlikely of victories. The irony was that if Porsche had had its way and Joest had not raced the WSC95, a McLaren would have won Le Mans in 1997.

In the event the WSC95 joined Joest’s own Porsche 956B chassis 117, Ford GT40 chassis 1075, Ferrari 250P chassis 0816 and the ‘Old Number One’ Speed Six Bentley as the only individual cars in the history of Le Mans to win the race twice. Not bad for a car commissioned by Jaguar, designed by TWR, never intended to do Le Mans and six seasons old at the time of its final victory…

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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