The globally famous sports car race called the 24 Hours of Le Mans had been held annually for decades. Since 1923, it has matched endurance with fuel efficiency and engineering to create an exciting event that’s held on a track near the French town of Le Mans called the Circuit de la Sarthe. There are many car manufacturers who participate in the race, but the most successful car maker is Porsche, which has topped the leaderboard with 17 wins in the 83 years the race has been run. Let’s take a look at some of the innovative machines from Porsche that have bested the competition.
Porsche shot into the top ranks of the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time in 1970 with the Porsche 917K. The car took the top spot the following year as well. The 917K was characterized by its long tail and high speeds, though several modifications had to eventually be made to increase stability when racing. The 917K’s entry into the Le Mans in 1970 marked the end of the production car era, in which entrants had been required to use cars modified from those available to the general public.
The next Le Mans entry from Porsche to take the top prize was the 936, which won in 1976, 1977 and 1981. This open-top spyder shared both a chassis and other parts from its predecessor the Porsche 917. It had a 540 horsepower engine, and in 1976, the car went 349 laps and 4,769.9 kilometers for the win.
The closed-top 935 dominated racing in general in the late 1970s, due largely to the high availability of the model. Based on the Porsche Carrera, the 935 could be found in most prestigious race car events and won a great deal of them. In the Le Mans, 1979 was this model’s best showing, winning outright and besting other Porsche teams.
The Le Mans races of the early 1980s were topped repeatedly by the Porsche 956 with four consecutive wins from 1982-1985. As the regulations for classes in the 24 Hours of Le Mans changed in 1982, the 956 was developed to improve upon the successful 936 while meeting the new requirements. The 956 used the same engine as the 936, but the body design was new and the chassis used a new aluminum material for lighter weight.
Porsche closed out its domination of the 1980s with Le Mans wins in 1986 and 1987 with the 962, a modified version of the 956. The car manufacturer made nearly 100 model 962s, and the vast majority went to private customers. Of the vehicles that were used in racing, many 962s took the checkered flag over a fairly long period of racing. In fact, in 1994, a regulation loophole allowed a modified 962 to enter and win the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
This Porsche model won the Le Mans in 1996 and 1997, though it was derived from a Jaguar and few cars were ever produced. Its highly modified features ran the same engine that had been successful in the 956.
Combining the front end of the 911 and the back end of the 962, the Porsche 911GT-1 won the Le Mans in 1998, the final year for the manufacturer to take the top spot in the race until this year.
After a long drought, Porsche again achieve the Le Man spotlight in 2015 with the 919 Hybrid, which combines a traditional fuel engine with a lithium-ion battery component. Hybrid technology has been used by several car makers to great success.