Five things you might not know about the Porsche 911 GT1

23rd March 2017
Ethan Jupp

A cohort of 911 GT1s in various guises were the centrefold of the GT1 demo at 75MM. Sitting alongside the car the GT1 was conceived to defeat, the McLaren F1 GTR, and the car that was McLaren’s riposte, the F1 GTR longtail, as well as the beautiful Ferrari F40 LM and absurd Elise GT1, the timeline of mid-‘90s GT1 was virtually accounted for in its entirety in the demo, as the breed evolved and the rules were creatively interpreted. The 911 GT1 is a key turning point in that evolution, and central to that story. Here are five things you may not have known about the car that arguably defined the era.


Move over F50, this is a literal racing car on the road

It's no secret that the 911 GT1, for all its absurdity, had a road-going version. Rare, but, so stated the rules of the class, every entrant had to have a road-faring counterpart. The difference here, between the Porsche and the McLaren, is that the F1 was first and foremost a road car. McLaren famously had no intention of going racing with it, only moving forward with the GTR program following pressure from eager privateers. The 911 GT1 was Porsche’s sporstcar silver bullet, locked and loaded, aimed squarely at the 1995 Le Mans-winning curveball from Woking. The Straßenversion, as the road car was known, was born out of necessity. Does that make the GTR the greater achievement given McLaren’s initial antipathy for the cause? The debate rages on…


It's part 962, part 911

Now we know its purpose, what was the GT1 made of, exactly? It doesn’t take a fully paid-up team technician to note that this car may not derive much from the iconic rear-engined, then air-cooled sportscar with which it shared a name. Actually, that’s probably not fair. Although the greatest difference (the GT1 being mid-engined versus all other 911s being rear) dictates a totally different shape, the front-end structure of the GT1 is mostly 993 911. It’s moving back from the cabin that things get lairy. Specifically, 962 lairy. The water-cooled, four-valve-per-cylinder, near-on 600bhp engine owes much to the then-recently retired legend of top-flight endurance racing. So this thing wearing a 911 badge is the mutant offspring of a Group C monster, and Porsche’s staple sportscar: More 911 than you might have assumed, actually.


'911 GT1' was a multi-sibling family 

The GT1 went through three major iterations during its intense three-year career. The original 1996 car was reasonably competitive but was nowhere near the critical blow to the F1 that Porsche was gunning for. 1997 Saw the GT1 Evo introduced with slipperier bodywork and flashes of incoming 996 911 in its styling. But as BPR transitioned into FIA GT, and a formidable new rival named Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR rocked up to the party, the GT1 Evo again fell short. 1998 saw Porsche kick things up a notch with the GT1 98, which won that year’s Le Mans 24 hours. We were graced with the winning car’s presence at MM and it's not until you have the three generations side-by-side in person to allow the fact that the '98 was essentially a whole new car, to sink in.

Image courtesy of LAT

Image courtesy of LAT

It raced until 2003

World-beating Porsche sportscars have a habit of reappearing in ways you might not expect. The Kremer Porsche 917 K81 saw the wizened old hero re-clothed in early Group C garbs and sent into battle eleven years after the original’s famed 1970 win. Dauer took a repurposed 962 to victory at Le Mans in 1994, under the very same regulations that would allow the 911 GT1 to compete, seven years after Porsche’s initial victory. So who championed the GT1 in its twilight hours? That would be privateer Gunnar Racing in the states. The twin-turbo 3.2-litre GT1 engine was dumped in favour of a 3.6-litre naturally aspirated lump from a 911 GT3 to create the Gunnar G-99 (and the less said about their modded open-cockpit version, the better). Its final outing – thankfully in closed-cockpit guise – would be at Daytona in November of 2003, six years following the GT1’s debut. It never got the latter-day private entry at Le Mans that its predecessors were granted.


It had a difficult career

A Le Mans victory is all it takes for a car to earn a favourable etching into the history books. Indeed, the 24 is the ultimate test of reliability, and it is on merit of its reliability that the GT1 98 took victory, but ultimately, it was a slower car than the new V8 CLK LM and the 'squint and it's a prototype' Toyota GT-One, enjoying little to no success over the aforementioned Mercedes in the ’98 FIA GT season. The reality is that the 911 GT1 lead a competitively difficult life, but Porsche got what they set out for in the end: An overall victory at Le Mans in their GT1 entry. It is there that the 911 GT1’s story would officially end, although as you might have read above, the cars would continue onto pastures new sans-official Porsche stewardship. The 911 GT1 is a spectacular chapter in Porsche’s illustrious sportscar history, and it was surreal to see the various iterations shaking down at Goodwood for the 75th Members' Meeting.

Photography by Jochen Van Cauwenberge, Dominic James and Nick Dungan

  • Porsche

  • 911

  • GT1

  • 75MM

  • 2017

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    Video: Hitchhiking to Goodwood in a Porsche 911 GT1

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    Video: BPR Spa 1996 – Porsche 911 GT1 v McLaren F1 GTR

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