Brian Redman will drive the same Porsche 917 he raced in 1973 at this year’s Festival of Speed, although its colourful past means that it looks rather different to how it did when he competed with it in period.
The car started life as a works CanAm car driven by Jo Stiffert in 1969. By the time Brian came to race it in 1973, it had been owned for some years by privateer team owner Vasek Polak. Although its outward appearance was that of the later 917/10, under the skin it was still a much earlier car – albeit now fitted with a 1100bhp engine, which was much more powerful than it had been designed for. It wasn’t a safe combination…
‘I tested it at Willow Springs and then raced it at Leguna Seca and it broke,’ says Brian. ‘Then we came to Riverside and through the fast kink onto the really long straight – where Rolf Stommelen died – I got a very nasty wiggle on. When I got back to the pits the guys looked at it and saw that something had broken.’
The failure played on Brian’s mind and he hardly slept the night before the race. He recalls his conversation on the morning of the race: ‘I said to Vasek “I don’t want to drive it – I don’t think it’s very safe.” Vasek said, “Brian, if you don’t want to drive it, you don’t have to but the guys have been up all night fixing the car.” I felt bad, so I agreed to drive.’
Half way through the race, when Brian was lying second to Mark Donohue in the 917/30, his car suffered a mechanical failure on the same point on the track. ‘I missed the barrier by nothing at all, but that was enough so I pitted,’ he recalls. This time the bottom right wishbone mounting bracket had broken clean off the chassis.
‘It was only at this point that I recognised that this wasn’t a regular 917/10, because that car had parallel links at the bottom while the original 917 just had a single pickup point – that’s why it had broken. I asked Vasek why it only had a single wishbone. He said “this is Jo Siffert’s 1969 CanAm car.” He’d put an 1100bhp engine in it and copied the bodywork from Scheckter’s car and made a replica of a 917/10.’
Shakedown test drama
The car has since been returned to its 1969 CanAm specification, a guise in which it has appeared at the Festival of Speed before. In 2009, Brian was invited to drive the car at the Festival, so organised a shakedown at the Targa Club meeting at Palm Beach in the preceding February. It didn’t go well, as Brain explains…
‘I did two slow laps, came in and checked for oil leaks, tightened the wheels and all that. And then out I went for some quick laps. About four corners in, I put the brakes on hard and the right-front wheel came off! I tried to turn left to spin the car and the left-front wheel promptly came off too.’
After careening into the barrier, Brian suffered only bruises but the car was badly damaged. Still, it was repaired in time and made its appearance at Goodwood, looking fresh as per the photograph above. This year’s event will be another chance to see Brian and the 917 in action.