Photography courtesy of Porsche AG
In addition to its classic yet unique lines, the Porsche 911 has always been distinguished by its advanced technology. By logic, the car defies physics, the rear engine hanging over the driveshaft should make it nearly undriveable, but the 911 has been an example of technical mastery. Many of the ideas that made their debuts in the Porsche 911 were conceived on the race track – the 911 has been committed to pure performance from the start – and motor racing is its most important test lab.
No other production automaker is as deeply rooted in motorsport as Porsche. Starting with a class victory at Le Mans in 1951 with the first 356 Light Metal Coupé, Porsche Motorsports has celebrated more than 54 major world and national championships and 137 wins in Formula One, sports car, endurance, rally and hill climbs worldwide.
In just 50 years, the 911 has reached more drivers and racers than any car ever built. Porsche racing engineer Norbert Singer can almost singlehandedly take credit for that success, playing a major role in all 16 of Porsche’s Le Mans victories. Originally tasked with developing the 911 road car for racing use, he is responsible for designing the legendary 956 and 962 Group C endurance cars, the WSC prototype, the 935 and 911 GT1.
From the very beginning it has been at home on circuits all over the world, earning a reputation as a versatile and dependable winner. Indeed, a good two thirds of Porsche’s 30,000 race victories to date were notched up by the 911.
With such a rich history, we take a look at some of the most iconic 911 sports cars and the people who raced them into the record books…
Major Victories: 1968 Monte Carlo Rally
Drivers: Vic Elford, David Stone
Engine: Flat-six, air-cooled turbo
Horsepower: 110 hp @ 5,800 RPM
Gearbox: Four-speed manual
Weight: 1,030 kg
Coming off his 1967 European Rally Championship which included a victory in the first-ever rallycross at Lydden Hill, Vic Elford landed the latest 911T (S-C 9166) in what is considered the 911’s first year of competition. Partnered with co-driver David Stone, the pair drove to an impressive victory on the streets and snow-covered hills at the grueling 37th Monte Carlo Rally. Elford’s car was a near-100% production model, but covered almost 5,500 km in just six days. More impressive, “Quick Vic” followed up with a win at the 24 Hours of Daytona the following weekend in a Porsche 908, to go along with a Nürburgring 1,000 km victory and one of the greatest comebacks ever – from 18 minutes back – in a 907 at Targa Florio.
That same year, four 911Ts were entered into Le Mans. Elford was given the task of driving a 908, but the two 911s that finished took the top two positions ahead of the only other finishing GT car, the Fiat Dino. Elford’s reputation quickly preceded him as one of Porsche’s all-time greats. He is also the only driver to pilot every version of the 917. Elford might owe much of his success to Porsche and the original 911, but likewise, he helped cement Porsche and the 911 as that of a winner from the beginning.
911 Carrera RS & RSR
Major Victories: 24 Hours of Daytona Overall (1973 RS, ’75 RSR), 12 Hours of Sebring (1973 RS)
Championships: IMSA GTO (1973 RS, ’75 RSR)
Drivers: Peter Gregg, Hurley Haywood, Dave Helmick
Engine: Flat-six, air-cooled, naturally aspirated
Displacement: 2.7L / 3.0L
Horsepower: 210 hp @ 6,300 RPM / 330 hp @ 8,000 RPM
Gearbox: Five-speed manual / Five-speed full-synchro
Weight: 920 kg / 900 kg
Established in 1971 after Peter Gregg purchased the Brumos Porsche dealership, Brumos Racing has four overall wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona – amazingly, three of them as participants in the GT class. The No. 59 Carrera RSR is responsible for two of those victories in ’73 and ’75, piloted by Gregg and current Brumos team/dealer owner Hurley Haywood. In 1977, Brumos switched to a 935/77, but Haywood, driving for the Ecurie Escargot team, drove the old Brumos car to the Daytona winners’ circle. Brumos won the following year in the 935, then again in 2009 in a Riley Mk XI-Porsche.
As the Brumos team received the 1973 RS just days before the 24-hour race at Daytona, it is the only iteration of the car not to dawn the team’s traditional red, white and blue paint scheme.
Hurley Haywood on the Carrera RS/RSR: “Anytime you win the 24 Hours at Daytona, it’s a great feat, but the one that really stands out in my mind is the ’73 race. We went into it with really no hope or thought of winning the race overall, but the car was quick and reliable and we soldiered on, got lucky and won the thing. Then we backed it up by winning Sebring.
“The first time I went to Le Mans driving for the factory team in 1977, I remember Professor Porsche told me, ‘We don’t pay our drivers very much, but we give them cars they can win races overall with. The rest will take car of itself.’
“Each 911 has a familiarity to one another. The 911 feels like home. I can’t express it any more distinctly. Every time I sit in a Porsche, regardless of the model, whether it’s a prototype, a production car, it feels the same to me. And I think that gives Porsche drivers a lot of confidence, to sit in a car they know well and feels like home.”
935/76 & 935/78 ‘Moby Dick’
Major Victories: 24 Hours of Le Mans Class (1976), 6 Hours of Silverstone (1978)
Championships: World Sportscar Championship for Makes (1976, ’77, ’78, ’79, ’80, ‘81)
Drivers: Jacky Ickx, Jochen Mass, Rolf Stommelen, Manfred Schurti
Engine: Flat-six, air-cooled turbo; Flat-six, air/water-cooled turbo
Displacement: 2.85L / 3.2L
Horsepower: 600 hp @ 7,900 RPM / 845 hp @ 8,200 RPM
Gearbox: Four-speed with rigid drive through / Four-speed, no differential
Weight: 970 kg / 1,025 kg
The most successful sports car ever built, the 935 is an exaggerated wide body designed by Norbert Singer in 1976 to take complete advantage of the Automobile Club L’Ouest Group 5 ‘silhouette’ rules. Regulations stated the car must have the same profile as its production counterpart when viewed only from the front. As a result, the 935 had noticeably wide rear fenders and an extended wing. The original headlamps remained in tact on early versions, but were relocated to the front bumper to make way for the ‘slant nose’ version for reduced drag and greater downforce.
Driven primarily by Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass, when their Formula One schedules permitted, the famed Martini livery 935/76 saw Porsche return to the Constructors’ Championship after a five-year hiatus.
Dubbed ‘Moby Dick’ for its long, flowing lines, the 935/78 was built exclusively for the 1978 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Displacement was pushed to 3.2L and the engine featured new, water-cooled cylinder heads, but still made use of traditional air cooling. The car took the 6 Hours of Silverstone in what was considered a test race, but only managed to place eighth at Le Mans before retiring to the Porsche museum.
The car was a true marvel of its time, dominating Group 5 events in various liveries worldwide, claiming the 1,000 km of Nürburgring (1977-79), the 24 Hours of Daytona (1978-82), the 12 Hours of Sebring (1978-84) and an overall victory at Le Mans in 1979.
Jochen Mass on the 935: “To me the 935 was always a compromise between a sports car and a race car, but it was neither, nor. The ‘Moby Dick’ – now that was a specific race car. It was wonderful. But at the Nürburgring the 935 was not a pleasant car to drive; it had a lot of power, but because of that – it had almost 850 hp – it became very tricky to drive. You had to drive it reasonably gently. If you pushed too hard it wouldn’t do the job. Norbert Singer was responsible for that car; he was much more of a race engineer and really one of the best there has ever been.”
On teammate Jacky Ickx: “Jacky (Ickx) and I didn’t see much of each other in Formula One because our cars were so different, but driving with him in the Porsches was always a pleasure. We get along really well and always agreed on the setup and there was no sort of internal rivalry, it was always very relaxing, which was great.”
Paris-Dakar 959 & 961 Le Mans sportscar
Major Victories: Paris-Dakar Rally (1986), 24 Hours of Le Mans Class* (1986 *experimental IMSA GTX class)
Drivers (959): René Metge, Dominique LeMoyne, Jacky Ickx, Roland Kussmaul, Günter Steckkönig; (961): René Metge, Claude Haldi, Claude Ballot-Léna, Kees Nierop
Engine: Flat-six cylinder, water/air-cooled twin turbo (Type 935)
Horsepower: 400 bhp @ 6,500 RPM / 640 bhp @ 7,800 RPM
Gearbox: Six-speed manual, differential lock, electronic AWD
Weight: 1,260 kg / 1,150 kg
Dressed similarly to Metge’s 1984 Paris-Dakar winning Rothman’s 953, Porsche sent three 959s to cover the 13,000-km desert rally in the ultimate test of the 911’s versatility. Of 113 coupes built in 1986, these three were equipped with a 330-litre fuel tank, lightweight plastic suspension components and an electronic mid-differential 4WD system with adjustable front/rear torque settings. Of 488 cars that started the rally, just 68 saw the finish. René Metge took top honours for his third career victory, followed by Jacky Ickx in second and Roland Kussmaul in sixth.
Based off the 959, the one-off 961 was designed to fight the Group-B sports cars at Le Mans in 1986. The hefty four-wheel-drive system was modified to compete at the Sarthe Circuit, putting greater emphasis on rear-wheel power distribution. But the drivetrain and lack of similar competition meant it needed numerous reclassifications. The 961 finished a strong seventh overall at the 24 Hours, but only managed 24th in the final round of the Camel GT series in Daytona, the result of tire issues from the banked turns. Hoping for a stronger result the following year at Le Mans, Dutch-Canadian Kees Nierop suffered a gearbox lockup more than halfway into the race, causing him to spin and hit the wall. The car caught fire and was severely damaged. After just three races, the 961 program was cut due to costs and classification issues.
(Note: The 1986 Le Mans race was also the debut of the Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) double–clutch transmission on the 962. The system only lasted 41 laps before failing, but is now utilized in a large number of Porsche production models today.)
911 GT1 (’96/Evo/’98)
Major Victories: 24 Hours of Le Mans GT1-Class (1996), 24 Hours of Le Mans Overall (1998)
Drivers: Hans Joachim Stuck, Thierry Boutsen, Bob Wollek, Karl Wendlinger, Yannick Dalmas, Scott Goodyear, Laurent Aïello, Allan McNish, Stéphane Ortelli, Jörg Müller, Uwe Alsen, Emmanuel Collard, Ralf Kelleners, Yannick Dalmas, Thierry Boutsen
Engine: Flat-six cylinder, water-cooled, double-intake twin turbo
Horsepower: 600 hp @ 7,200 RPM / 550 hp @ 7,200 RPM (’98)
Gearbox: Six-speed full-synchro / Six-speed sequential, triple-disc clutch (’98)
Weight: 1,000 kg (approx.)
In the era of GT1 dominance, Porsche decided to build the ultimate GT car just nine months in advance of the 1996 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Set to take on heavily-modified supercars, including the Ferrari F40 and McLaren F1, the Porsche 911 GT1 was created for one purpose – the overall victory. It literally is a race car built for the street. Porsche built 25 Straßenversion (Street Version) models to meet the minimum homologation requirements to qualify for Le Mans. The 911 GT1 featured a dramatic long-body design similar to the ‘Moby Dick,’ consisting entirely of carbon-fiber Kevlar and a front section based on the 993. The engine was moved from its rear layout to sit ahead of the rear axle to fully exploit the regulations and optimize performance and balance.
The two factory GT1s showed great reliability throughout the race, only to be defeated by Joest Racing’s Porsche-designed LMP1 car and Type 935 engine by a single lap. Returning in 1997, the GT1 Evo included improved aerodynamics, a wider front axle and modified ECU. A total of eight 911 GT1s entered Le Mans – two by the factory team. Setting the highest top speed in qualifying at 326 km/h, the race was not nearly as promising. Just 17 of 48 total entries completed the race. All but two GT1s retired with reliability issues, including both factory entries, the last one going up in flames.
The GT1 ’98 was Stuttgart’s most modern car to date, but faced new challenges from the blisteringly fast Toyota GT-One (pictured, above) and Mercedes-Benz CLK-LM. Using a carbon fiber monocoque for optimum weight savings, the car was longer, wider and lower for improved aerodynamics. The updated engine was less powerful on paper at 550 hp, but the new unit proved to be much more consistent, as the No. 26 and No.25 GT1s took top spots on the podium, winning by three and four laps over the Nissan R390. It marked the 16th victory at Le Mans for Porsche and Norbert Singer, and their last one to date. That same year, the No. 26 GT1 was involved in a spectacular crash in the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, when Yannick Dalmas flipped after driving in dirty air.
Allan McNish on the GT1: “The 1996, ’97 and ’98 GT1 era was one of massive pace development. The ’96 car changed the face for sports cars at the time. Normally, GT cars were basically road productions stiffened up with roll cages and things like that. Once the GT1 came in, it was quite clear that others such as the McLaren (F1) were going to come onto the scene as well.”
“When you got into the ’98 car, it was a true racing car. The radiator went from being just in front of your feet to the correct position; you had a sequential gearbox as opposed to the old H-pattern gearbox; you actually had a dogbox and not synchromesh. We had run syncromesh in ’98 for Le Mans, only due to the gearshifts that were required for that place at the time, and everything else was a thoroughbred racing car.
“Ultimately we struggled for pure pace in the shorter races in comparison to, say, a Mercedes; partly due to the fact with the flat-six turbo and the air restrictors, we didn’t have any bottom-end power. The car always had a tendency to understeer. And I think that’s a Singer trait. It’s one of the reasons they were so strong at Le Mans, because it was a very consistent car. We could have trimmed it out a little bit for Le Mans, but ultimately we wanted to keep a little bit of extra wing on it, just to give that security – which was, without doubt, the right way to run it – because when it came to the slippery conditions through the night – a bit of rain, a bit of drizzle – that sort of thing, that’s when we’re on our own and into our own.
“Overall, the car was suited for Le Mans. It was a car you could hustle, it was a car you could throw around. I was quickest on (Le Mans) test day by I think a couple of hundredths over Martin Brundle and the Toyota (GT ONE). There were quite a few times when the wins were there on the plate, but thankfully, it came together at Le Mans.
“The GT1 just gave you that feel and that confidence – it was something that was nice. And I’m biased, but it’s still the prettiest car I’ve ever driven.”
Petersen 911 GT3 RSR (Type 996)
Major Victories: 24 Hours of Le Mans Class (2004)
12 Hours of Sebring (2005)
Championships: American Le Mans (ALMS) GT2 Team (2005)
ALMS GT2 Drivers’ Championship (2005, 2006)
Drivers: Jörg Bergmeister, Patrick Long, Sascha Maassen, Timo Bernhard, Lucas Lühr
Engine: Flat-six, water-cooled naturally-aspirated
Horsepower: 445 bhp @ 8,250 RPM
Gearbox: Six-speed manual (H-pattern synchro / sequential dog-type)
Weight: 1,100 kg
Petersen Motorsports enjoyed a great deal of success in 2003 with the 996 RS taking the class win at Le Mans paired with the Alex Job racing outfit. Returning in 2004 as Petersen/White Lightning, the 996 was upgraded to RSR status, bringing back the nameplate and producing just 48 competition-only models in the first year. A relatively small operation, Petersen/White Lightning took an incredible class win and 10th place overall at Le Mans after losing seven laps with a jammed gearbox. Going for the three-peat in 2005, the team fell short by just one lap to the Alex Job/BAM! RSR, but took a commanding win at Sebring, finishing seventh overall in a field of 38 cars. The team announced its withdrawal from ALMS in 2008 after Petersen and White Lightning decided to part ways, with Petersen opting to return to rallying.
Patrick Long on the 996: “My career started in 996 Cup cars and in the 996 RS. Those cars had H-pattern synchro boxes; they weren’t as much of a race car as when the RSR came out. We started with the RSR at the beginning of 2004, so from ’04 to ’06, I drove that car. I remember going to Le Mans my first year, the car was still a work in progress. The aero was a lot more aggressive with the RSR, but I think when the 996 moved to the RSR it became a much more iconic car. For Le Mans, we weren’t sure if we were going to run the H-pattern or the sequential gearbox. We qualified with the H-pattern synchro box, then for the race we put one of the prototype sequential boxes in it. It was a really user-friendly car.”
“For me, the memory of the 996 RSR was with Petersen/White Lightning. It was special, because the one chassis number won Le Mans in 2004, then the ALMS GT team and drivers title in ’05 and the drivers title again in ’06 with Jörg Bergmeister.”
“We felt like it was a David vs. Goliath situation; we were the small, single-car effort, never the favourite, so it was cool for us underdogs. We were a road crew and we would prep in the parking lot – we just had a lot of fun. Dale White was a desert racer turned GT guy. He was really smart with strategy and hands-on with how he managed the team. But to get those victories with that car, it holds more on my CV than anything. We ran that car for three full seasons, even before Jörg and I were with the team, with David Murray and Craig Stanton. At the end, in the last four or five races, we were trying to capture the ’06 title and were literally welding the thing back together because it was falling apart at the seams. But that car is still around. Out of all the 996s, I think arguably, that one has the most history.”
The next season, Long would move to the new 911 GT3 997-variant for a dominant stint with Flying Lizard Motorsport.
Flying Lizard 911 GT3 RSR (Type 997)
Major Victories: Petit Le Mans GT2-Class (2007)
Championships: American Le Mans Series GT2 Drivers’ (2008, ‘09)
ALMS GT2 Team Championship (2008, ‘09)
ALMS GT Driver Champions (2010)
Drivers: Jörg Bergmeister, Wolf Henzler, Marc Lieb, Patrick Long, Johannes van Overbeek, Darren Law, Lonnie Pechnik, Seth Neiman, Alex Davison, Patrick Pilet, Richard Lietz
Engine: Flat-six, water-cooled naturally-aspirated
Horsepower: 485 bhp @ 8,500 RPM
Gearbox: Six-speed sequential dog-type manual
Weight: 1,225 kg
One of the strongest outfits in the history of Porsche, the factory-backed Flying Lizard team quickly became a household name in motorsports with its striking, Troy Lee-designed Red and Silver 911 GT3 RSR. In 2007, the team switched from the 996 to the new 997, which was praised as being more reliable and capable than its older sibling. The new car had greater displacement, more power, 10% stiffer chassis, wider rear track, 14-inch rear wheel accommodations and a lower center of gravity.
Piloting the first-generation 997 RSR, Flying Lizard took Petit Le Mans in 2007, followed by ALMS team and driver titles in ’08 and ’09 with honours going to Jörg Bergmeister (’08, ‘09), Wolf Henzler (’08) and Patrick Long (’09). Bergmeister and Long repeated again in 2010, capping an incredible three-year span that included 14 wins in 30 races – a 47% winning rate. Flying Lizard has made it to the podium an incredible 58 times since joining the ALMS series in 2004, 38 of those in the 911 GT3 RSR Type-997. After Porsche announced the new 991 RSR and the termination of 997 factory support, Flying Lizard decided to transition to the 911 GT3 Cup car as part of the one-make GTC class in ALMS. As part of the move, the team also announced a new support program for customers looking to get involved in the ALMS GTC and IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge series.
911 RSR (Type 991)
Major Victories: 24 Hours of Le Mans GT-Pro Class (2013), 24 Hours of Daytona GTLM Class (2014), 12 Hours of Sebring GTLM Class (2014)
Drivers: Jörg Bergmeister, Marc Lieb, Richard Lietz, Romain Dumas, Patrick Pilet, Timo Bernhard, Nick Tandy, Patrick Long, Michael Christensen
Horsepower: 470 hp @ (est.)
Gearbox: Six-speed sequential Porsche GT with paddle shift
Weight: 1,245 kg
Far and away the most technologically-advanced Porsche to date, the 911 RSR lends itself to the naturally-aspirated heritage of RSs and RSRs passed. This seventh-generation, all-carbon racer is a complete redesign, built specifically for the 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE Class. The Porsche factory squad, Team Manthey are fielding the only two RSRs in the WEC this season, while Porsche North America is responsible for the two-car effort in the new United SportsCar Championship (USCC).
Among the changes are a 10 cm longer wheelbase to reduce weight in the rear, new wishbone front suspension, a single central air intake (opposed to the previous three), aggressive aerodynamics and, perhaps the biggest of all, a brand-new, lightweight six speed, sequential paddle-shift gearbox - the first non stick-shift 911 factory racer.
The 991 carries some of the biggest technological changes in the 911 bloodline since the move from air- to water-cooled engines. It marks the beginning of a new chapter for Porsche. Purists may argue that the newest rendition moves away from the tactile feel and purity of the driving experience, but it is a linear evolution. Porsche is one of very few companies that has – and will continue to – base itself and its cars off one thing: a no-compromise, no-holds-barred, racing pedigree.
Its first true test at the 2013-running of Le Mans proved the new 911’s immense capabilities – Marc Lieb, Richard Lietz and Romain Dumas piloting the no. 92 car to victory, ahead of Jörg Bergmeister, Timo Bernhard and Patrick Pilet in the no. 91, who finished a close second on the same lap, no less.
That momentum carried forward to North America and the inaugural USCC race at the 2014 24 Hours of Daytona, where the no. 911 of Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz finished first in the GTLM class ahead of the BMW Team RLL Z4. The following race at Sebring, the no. 912 of Patrick Long, Michael Christensen and Bergmeister took the honours at the 12 Hours of Sebring.
Team Manthey – while unable to repeat its dominance at Le Mans this year – still captured third behind the AF Corsa Ferrari 458 and Corvette C7.R, putting them second and third in the overall WEC team championship. In only its first full year of competition, Porsche’s most advanced GT racer is showing its prowess in an already-established field, and is undoubtedly on the hunt for more.
Jörg Bergmeister on the 991: “The 911 has changed step-by-step in pretty much every area; wheelbase, engine, gearbox and aerodynamics. It is much more race car now than when I started racing in the 911. The 911 RSR (991) is again another step up from the 997 GT3 RSR, it handles more like a purpose-built race car. You can feel even more downforce and the car is better-balanced (longer wheelbase and weight distribution). Personally and quintessentially, this is the best RSR ever.”