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24 Hours of LeMans

The F1-link to Porsche's famous 1971 Le Mans victory

This weekend is the 100th running of the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1971, the legendary endurance race was won by Red Bull F1 team advisor Helmut Marko and teammate Gijs van Lennep.

Porsche 917 Van Lennep Marko
Interview
To news overview © RacingNews365

In 1971 Porsche travelled to Le Mans with a huge lineup. The German car-maker entered the historic race with 33 cars out of a field of 49 - establishing a single-make record that has yet to be broken.

Part of that was two versions of the dominant 917; a long tail and shortened version. The long tail used the same iconic design but featured aero modifications at the rear, which increased the top speeds but offered drivers less stability in corners.

Adorning the iconic Martini livery, one car was entered for the Dutch-Austrian duo of Gijs van Lennep and Red Bull F1 advisor Helmut Marko. Despite the previous success of the 917, they were not favourites for the victory. They went into the night stint in fifth place, but emerge as leaders due to the bad luck and crashes of their rivals in the competition.

But even Van Lennep and Marko are not spared their fare share of bad luck, as the Dutchman explains in an exclusive interview with RacingNews365: "Porsche had thought of making holes in the brake discs for extra cooling, but hairline cracks started to appear around those holes."

This created huge risks for the drivers, but replacing the brakes was not an option: "That would certainly have put us out of the lead, so we decided to [almost] stop braking."

This trick using the car's lighter chassis to slow down and use the brakes less, which enabled the pair to guide their car to the finish without incident. Van Lennep would only later learn what he never wanted to hear while driving the car.

"The bodywork was made of magnesium, which is a very fire-sensitive material," explained Van Lennep.

Had the car crashed, it would have been a very fiery incident during a period when safety in motorsport was very much an afterthought.

			© RacingNews365
	© RacingNews365

Photo above: Today Van Lennep is still an ambassador of the Porsche brand, regularly stepping in for demos or a rally with classics.

Last year the original car was still at the Historic Grand Prix at Zandvoort. It was cleaned having been on display in the museum for years with the dirt from Le Mans still on it - the usual way to retire a winner from the historic race.

It is unlikely that the chassis will ever race competitively again, largely due to the magnesium bodywork becoming fragile over the years. But when it was racing in anger against the other cars in the field, who was quickest between both Van Lennep and Marko?

"That was Marko, I didn't get to the times he managed to drive with it," recalls Van Lennep.

"I spoke to him last year. It's not like we visit each other all the time, even though we won Le Mans together. We were primarily colleagues and not necessarily friends, but he's a great guy."

This weekend the 100th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be held.

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