Le Mans 1981 – victory for a museum Porsche

Who ever said that ending up in a museum means staying on the shelf? In the case of the type 936, Porsche proved the opposite to be true.

After two victories at Le Mans in 1976 and 1977, the 936 Spyder rolled into the museum. For the Le Mans contest in 1981, Porsche boss Professor Ernst Fuhrmann decided to use the new 944 Turbo in order to demonstrate its sporty character to the public. Just a few months before the race in Le Mans, American Peter W. Schutz, who succeeded Fuhrmann at the helm of the company, asked technical director Helmuth Bott, ‘Can we win in Le Mans with the 944?’ Bott and racing manager Peter Falk had to say no. Class victories were possible at best. Schutz then asked, ‘So why are we competing in the race? Don’t we have any other cars?’ He was then very clear with his words: ‘As long as I’m the boss of this company, we never start without aiming to win!’

After a day’s reflection, Bott and Falk introduced their new boss to a new project. Developing a new racing car was not an option in the short term. The engineers could think of only one option: Equipped with a six-cylinder turbo engine that was originally intended for an Indianapolis race with a capacity of 2.65 litres and output of 456 kW (620 hp) – instead of the previous 540 hp – they prepared two Porsche 936 cars from the museum for the classic endurance race.

It was a success: Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell drove a lonely race at the head of the field, winning by 14 laps. They did not experience the slightest technical problem, and the engine cover on their car was not lifted once during the race other than according to plan. The second 936 car, driven by Jochen Mass, Vern Schuppan and Hurley Haywood, repeatedly had to enter the pit with engine problems, finally coming in twelfth – some 42 laps behind the winner. A better performance was achieved by the works Porsche in the GT class: Jürgen Barth and Walter Röhrl won the class with the 944 Turbo, securing a good seventh position in the overall standings. The pair even received a special prize because no car spent less time in the pit than the relatively economical 944 Turbo.

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Le Mans 1982 – triple triumph on debut