The Porsche 917 and 919 Hybrid made an appearance at Porsche Centre Damansara last week. One a Le Mans legend, the other aiming to be one, we have detailed photos of the two incredible race machines for you to enjoy.
The first time is always the most memorable, as the saying goes. For Porsche’s motorsport division, the Porsche 917 remains the stuff of legends as it was the first car to bring Porsche to the top step of the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1970, and then again in 1971. Powered by Porsche’s first ever 12-cylinder engine, it made a “measly” 520 hp in its original state, which rose to an unbelievable 1,000 to 1,500 hp in various states of tune.
The 917 was born as a result of a rule change in 1968 when the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile – commonly known as the FIA, announced a new racing class for cars with engines no larger than 5.0 litres and a minimum weight of 798.3 kg. Other requirements for this class were for participating manufacturers to build 25 road legal examples of the race version. The man tasked with this responsibility was none other than Ferdinand Piëch – current chairman of the Volkswagen Group.
Apart from its famed engine outputs, the 917 also featured numerous weight-saving techniques that were either unheard of in its time or extremely rare. A lightweight space frame chassis which weighed in at a mere 42 kg formed the base, which was then coupled to a 4.5, 4.9 or a 5.0 litre(depending on race configurations) flat-12 engine. One of the most defining feature of the car – also as a result of obsessive weight cutting, was the inclusion of a gearshift knob made out of balsa wood. This small but significant gesture was then echoed in the interior of the Porsche Carrera GT.
The 917 was also known for making an appearance in a variety of distinct paint schemes and liveries, such as the colours of Gulf Oil, a “Pink Pig” version and green-and-purple car – known as the “Hippie Car” – which was fielded by Martini Racing.
As with most race cars of that era, the Porsche 917 was considered a relatively difficult car to drive as quoted by Porsche’s factory driver at that time, Brian Redman, who called it “…incredibly unstable, using all the road at speed.” At the height of its career, the 917 was rumoured to produce a maximum of 1,580 hp during the 1972-1973 Can-Am campaign. The 5.374 litre flat-12 were equipped with twin-turbos that ran up to 39 psi of boost and raced with more or less 1,100 hp to preserve the engine.
Fast forward 44 years later since the 917’s first Le Mans win, Porsche marked a return to the famed endurance race with the introduction of the 919 Hybrid. Designed to compete in the Le Mans Prototype 1-Hybrid (LMP1-H) class, the 919 has a radical 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that’s paired to a lithium-ion battery-powered hybrid motor.
At the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans, car number 20, driven by Mark Webber, had looked like it had a podium position bagged when the car suffered a broken anti-roll bar with less than two hours left. Not long after, car number 14 which was driven by Marc Lieb at that time, was forced into the pits with an identical issue. Unfortunately for Porsche, car number 20 was unable to return to the track in time and was not officially classified while car number 14 was classified eleventh.
As of now, only time will tell as the 2014 endurance racing season continues whether or not Porsche would be able to reignite its top-level motorsport glories. With a trip down memory lane in the Porsche 917, here’s something to keep that journey going with a gallery of classic Formula 1 cars – it’ll certainly make for interesting discussions when compared to 2014’s new Formula 1 cars.
Porsche 919 Hybrid