GRR

Hanging out with Porsche's first Le Mans winner

13th July 2018
Andrew Willis

It’s almost too much to handle for any Porsche fan at the 2018 Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard. We’re celebrating the 70th birthday of the German manufacturers and there are special cars coming at us from all sides. 

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The most iconic of all? Arguably the Porsche 917 KH from Porsche Salzberg which, on 14th of June 1970, took Porsche’s first ever Le Mans 24 Hours win at the hands of driving duo Hans Herrmann and Richard Atwood.

The appeal of the 917 is that It’s a car that looks flat-out even at a standstill. In the Festival of Speed paddocks, nearly 50 years after that famous first win, it still looks ready and raring to go. It is beautiful, and most definitely a racing weapon.

Developed by Ferdinand Piëch, the 917 was first unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 1969. This new ‘ultimate’ Porsche went on to become one of the fastest and most successful racing cars of all time. The lightweight 12-cylinder engine delivered up to 580hp at 8,400 rpm with a displacement of 4.5 litres. This enabled the 917 to reach speeds of up to 248 mph on the 5,823 metre-long Hunaudières straight at Le Mans. 

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Not only did the 917 win the 1970 Le Mans, it did so in horrendous conditions. ‘Quick Vic’ Elford, Porsche racing legend who was also driving in a long-tail 917 remembered how it was almost impossible to overtake, even on the long straights due to standing water and spray. In fact, conditions were so hazardous Hans Herrmann admitted weeks later that driving in the rain had prompted him to make the decision to finally hang up his helmet no matter what the outcome.

Luckily for him, his retirement would come following the famous victory, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last for Porsche, as the 917 paved the way for the German manufactures to take a record 17 Le Mans victories moving forwards.

With years of dominance under its belt, and a starring role in Steve McQueen’s racing epic Le Mans, the 917 was even voted Motor Sports greatest racing car in history, and we’d struggle to disagree. 

Photography by James Lynch

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