1970 24 Hours of Daytona winning Gulf Oil Porsche 917

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This is the #2 Gulf Oil Porsche 917K that won the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona and sister to the car that won the 24 Hours of LeMans that summer and again in 1971. It is hard to remember that Porsche was not always the dominant team they have been in recent racing history. The Porsche 917 K, seen here is one reason Porsche is a legend now. In March of 1969, the Porsche 917 made it’s debut at the Geneva Motor Show. This new race car was in all-white and ready to be sold to race team customers. It’s price was about 10 times the cost of a Porsche road car, but they would need expensive modifications to race. Arguments with the French sanctioning body added intrigue to the sale of Porsche 917’s to customer teams. This may have contributed to development issues with the early Porsche 917 chassis. They were not initially successful.

The Porsche 917 had aerodynamics developed specifically for the low drag, high speed sections of the 24 Hours of LeMans. The single 8-mile long straightaway called the Mulsanne, is where top speed is critical. [ It has since been changed and divided into smaller straight segments ] Porsche had power issues before 1969, using the low downforce strategy to gain speed was a Porsche philosophy. The new Porsche 917 wasn’t underpowered and the new higher speeds coupled with the now famous long tail created a car that was wiggly at speed. Legendary racing driver Brian Redman has wonderfully funny stories about his 917. The situations weren't funny at the time, but If you ever have occasion to attend one of the many social occasions he does, be sure to attend. Brian's tales are best, funniest bit of cocktail party chatter you’ll ever hear.
The general consensus among drivers was that the Porsche 917 was fast, but scary and unstable, with the 4.5 liter engine outputting too much power for the chassis. When the 917 made it’s debut in competition [at the 1969 Nürburgring 1000km], all the factory drivers insisted on driving the old Porsche 908. The Porsche facotory put two fee drivers into the new Porsche 917. At LeMans that year, the 917’s were quicker, but had durability issues and did not finish.

The factory was disappointed by the poor initial results of the 917 and were worried about more competition coming from Ferrari’s new 512 car. To step up, Porsche did a deal with race customer John Wyer and sponsor Gulf Oil. That was the beginning of what we remember now as the famous blue / orange painted John Wyer/Gulf Oil Racing Porsche 917. They were the defacto official Porsche team, with all the development privileges that brings. John Wyer's group increased downforce, since greater drag could be offset with horsepower. This new body work, called the 917 K or short tail gave the car better stability on road courses. In planning for the 1970 24 Hours of LeMans, a long tail was needed, so a more aerodynamic body was developed, which had lower drag, but more importantly the stability missing in 1969. Hans Herrmann drove the Porsche 917 LH long tail to victory in both 1970 and 1971.

Most racing fans now recognize a Porsche 917 because of two events. The Porsche John Wyer / Gulf Oil 917 won at LeMans in two consecutive years and the car was featured prominently in a movie called LeMans. Pictures of Hans Hermann’s success in the Porsche 917 made it a known winner, before the movie debut, but the 917 wouldn't continue. The FIA closed a loop hole in the sports car racing rules after the 1971 season, effectively ending the Porsche 917 dominance.

The 1971 Steve McQueen movie LeMans made both the race and the Porsche 917 famous outside the racing community. The 917 became a car star, selling toy models long before it was as common as it is now. In preparation for the 1970 filming that took place at LeMans, few movie fans know Steve McQueen and partner Peter Revson almost won the March 12, 1970, 12 Hours of Sebring race in Florida. McQueen spent personal money and used his own Porsche 908 to run at Sebring for publicity. Flush with cash from the Bullitt movie’s success, Steve really just wanted an excuse to race his new Porsche 908. No one really expected much from McQueen/Revson, but because of other team reliability issues, they finished 2nd, to Mario Andretti in a Ferrari 512. It was a close race, and in doubt to the very end. Andretti only won by a few seconds margin. The publicity Steve McQueen got from his drive at the 12 Hours of Sebring wasn’t the kind he wanted. The performance bond company backing production of the LeMans movie, noticed his extracurricular activities and insisted he stop actively racing. Steve’s personal Porsche 908, fresh from the podium at Sebring , was used as a camera car for filming many of the on-track action sequences seen in the movie. You can see images from other years at the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Daytona 24 Hour races and the famous 24 Hours of LeMans in our event photo archives.

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