Le Mans 1971 – victory with a magnesium frame
The second victory in Porsche’s Le Mans history was a clear win for the masterful 917. However, nobody had expected a 917 test car to win. The victors were Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep in the Martini 917 Langheck.
For 1970 and 1971, Porsche chief strategist Ferdinand Piëch joined forces with the ‘Gulf’ team, which was led by the successful British racing manager John Wyer. Wyer got the fastest Porsche factory drivers for his 917: Jo Siffert and Pedro Rodriguez. However, Piëch, who was always keen on internal competition, decided to put further 917s on the circuits. These were racing for Porsche KG Salzburg and Martini Racing Team, but it was an open secret that members of the Porsche factory crew were behind these teams.
The armada of red factory Ferraris was nowhere to be seen at Le Mans in 1971. The fastest Ferrari 512M was painted blue, came from the USA and was entered by Roger Penske, who would later be a partner of Porsche. It did not hit the mark. This made the seven Porsche 917s under Wyer and the Martini team the great favourites. Porsche risked two experiments for this race. The first was to use the extra-wide 917/20, which was dubbed the ‘Pink Pig’ due to its rosy pink paint, but this dropped out due to an accident. The other was the white Martini 917 with the start number 22. There was actually a test car hiding behind this exterior. The drivers Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep were unaware that their 917 was the only one to have a magnesium frame and perforated disc brakes. As Piëch did not think that this 917 would be a major player, he gave it to the youngest racing mechanics to work on.
Despite relatively calm race tactics, the fastest 917s fell by the wayside. Not so the ‘22’ or the third Wyer-Porsche driven by Attwood and Müller. Worrying about his cars, Piëch urged that ‘one of the two should drive more slowly’. Hearing of this, Marko commented drily: ‘Good idea, but I won’t be the one taking my foot off the gas!’ By the time they had achieved their aim, Marko and van Lennep had covered a distance of 5,335 kilometres, at an average speed of 222.304 kilometres per hour. This distance record was not broken until 2010.