Le Mans 1979 – the year of the 935

After the works Porsche 936s dropped out, three private 935s took all the podium places at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans. The fastest drivers were Klaus Ludwig and Rolf Stommelen.

The works team had initially decided against participating at Le Mans in 1979. However, the situation changed when the oil broker David Thieme and his Essex Overseas Petroleum Corporation funded the entry of two 936s to be driven by Jacky Ickx and Brian Redman and by Bob Wollek and Hurley Haywood respectively. As by far the fastest cars among the field, these two Porsche 936s dominated the training session and led the pack in the opening hours of the race. However, Ickx then suffered tyre damage that caused him to spin and collide with the barriers. Following one and a half hours of repairs, the Belgian driver’s efforts to make up for lost time were interrupted when a torn timing belt brought him to a standstill on the Mulsanne Straight. Engine specialist Valentin Schäffer tried to maintain a low profile as he brought the spare part to the 936. Although Ickx was able to fit the new part and drive away, he and Redman were subsequently disqualified for receiving outside assistance. The second 936 began to misfire and fell off the pace before sustaining engine damage on the Sunday morning that forced Wollek and Haywood to abandon the race altogether.

All of this turned the event into a straight battle between the Porsche 935s from Group 5. The fastest 935 was entered by the brothers Erwin and Manfred Kremer, with Klaus Ludwig putting in a stunning performance in the Kremer-Porsche. His teammates Bill and Don Whittington proved significantly slower, especially when driving at night and in rainy conditions. Ludwig made full use of the four hours he was permitted to drive in one go without any deductions and took the Porsche into a substantial lead. Don Whittington then sustained a torn timing belt, just as Ickx had done. Unlike the Belgian, he had a backup timing belt on board – but even this replacement proved to be short-lived. Receiving instructions from the team via radio, he used electrical tape to fashion a V-belt that would drive the injection pump. Whittington’s handiwork paid off, as the Kremer-Porsche bearing the start number 41 went on to take first place ahead of Rolf Stommelen in Dick Barbour’s Porsche 935. What made Stommelen and Barbour’s second-place finish all the more sensational was that the third member of their team was the world-famous Hollywood actor Paul Newman. Third position went to another Kremer-Porsche 935 driven by Laurent Ferrier, François Sérvanin and François Trisconi, ensuring a Porsche-only podium in Le Mans that year.

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Le Mans 1981 – victory for a museum Porsche