A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary: The Porsche 911

Written by Shaun Keenan & Jordan Lenssen | Photography by Porsche and LAT on .

A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary
Porsche AG Mobil1 911 GT1 (’96/Evo/’98) 

Major Victories: 24 Hours of Le Mans GT1-Class Victory (1996)
    24 Hours of Le Mans Overall Victory (1998)
Championships: N/A
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, water-cooled, double-intake twin turbo
Displacement: 3.2L
Horsepower: 600 hp @ 7,200 RPM / 550 hp @ 7,200 RPM (’98)
Gearbox: Six-speed full-synchro / Six-speed sequential, triple-disc clutch (’98)
Layout: MR
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 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 some dirty air.

A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary

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.”

“But 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.”

A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary
Petersen/White Lightning 911 GT3 RSR (996)

Major Victories: 24 Hours of Le Mans Class Victory (2004)

    12 Hours of Sebring (2005)
Championships: American Le Mans (ALMS) GT2 Team Championship (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
Displacement: 3.6L
Horsepower: 445 bhp @ 8,250 RPM
Gearbox: Six-speed manual (H-pattern synchro / sequential dog-type)
Layout: RR
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.”

A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary
Flying Lizard 911 GT3 RSR (997) 

Major Victories: Petit Le Mans GT2-Class Victory (2007)
Championships: American Le Mans Series GT2 Drivers’ Champions (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
Displacement: 3.8L
Horsepower: 485 bhp @ 8,500 RPM
Gearbox: Six-speed sequential dog-type manual
Layout: RR
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.

A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary
Porsche AG 911 RSR (991) 

Major Victories: TBD
Championships: TBD
Drivers: Jörg Bergmeister, Marc Lieb, Richard Lietz, Romain Dumas, Patrick Pilet, Timo Bernhard

Engine: Flat-six
Displacement: 4.0L
Horsepower: 470 hp @ (est.)
Gearbox: Six-speed sequential Porsche GT with paddle shift
Layout: RR
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 World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE Class. The Porsche factory Team Manthey WEC works squad will field the two RSRs exclusively this season, which should see action in North America next year as part of the new United SportsCar Racing series.

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.

A Special Sports Car Celebrates a Special Anniversary

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.

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.”



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