Thursday, February 17, 2011

Is the Porsche 917 the greatest racing car ever created?

I think I've known about the 917 before I even understood real racing. Growing up, it was always some sort of a legend of motor racing, a relic of the past that was only talked about in story form. The more I think about it though, and the more my knowledge of motorsports grows, I have to stop and ask; is the 917 the greatest racing car ever made? 

I think yes. Click the break to see why.
Well, to start of my argument, I'm just going to post this amazing video that was sent to me via my friend Aaron Taylor. I think it should speak a thousand words for my argument in itself.

Well, are you convinced yet? No. Well, here's some background.

The Porsche 917 was first unveiled on March 12, 1969. Following a long series of events, the FIA limited engine displacement in Group 6 cars, reducing them to 3 liters and creating another separate class of Group 4 prototypes with a max displacement of 5 liters. With that however, the FIA declared that a minimum number of 50 cars had to be produced.

However following 1968 when very few cars participated in the Group 4 class, the FIA then reduced the production number from 50 to 25. With that Porsche decided to take advantage of the rule change and design a completely new car which would be designated the 917.

As I mentioned before, the first 917 was unveiled at the Geneva auto show in March of 1969. However it did not earn its CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale) homologation standard until April 20th when 25 cars were finally completed.

When it was first released, reports stated that the 917 was very unstable at on the race track. It was found to lift at high speed. Consequently, the frame and suspension was heavily modified with little result. Eventually, it was revealed that the "long-tail" of the car was causing the car to lift. Considering that the car was already 30km/h (19 mph)faster then anything else on Le Mans, the car had been designed to utilize a very low drag coefficient.

Also, it should be noted that the first versions of the car utilized a 4.5 Liter flat-12 engine which was aircooled. This engine proved to be a technological marvel even by todays standards, using materials such as titanium, magnesium and a number of exotic alloys.

The frame of the 917 was a spaceframe that was permanently filled with gas to reveal any cracks. This revolutionary frame weighed a total of 42 kg (93 lbs).

With such a large engine, the drivers compartment was forced to be moved so far forward that the drivers feet were well beyond the front axle.

In the 1969 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 917 did yield the fastest practice time. That same year, Ferrari unveiled its 512 racer which would prove to provide some bit of competition for the 917.

Finally in 1970, Porsche got sick of receiving mediocre results and with new competition, they handed the 917 over to the JWA Gulf Racing team. What they did following that would only go down into history as one of the most significantly modifications in all of history.

During tests at Zeltweg, where the car had won its only race at that time, Wyer's engineer John Horsmann had the idea to increase downforce at the expense of drag. A new wedge-shaped tail was molded with aluminium sheets taped together. This new short tail gave the 917 much needed stability. The plastic engine intake cover had already been removed. The new version was called 917K (Kurzheck).

With those modifications as well as a handful of other variants run by privateer teams, the 917 went on to take 1st and 2nd in the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, followed by a Porsche 908.

In 1971, The 917 had unimaginable success. The #22 Martini Racing 917 set the record for the distance covered in the 24 Hours, a record which would stand up until the 2010 24 Hours, finally being broken by the Audi R15+ TDI driving a total of 335.313 km (3,107.7 miles) at an average speed of 220.2 km/h (137.6 mph). However, to this day the 917 still hold the record for the fastest lap time at 3:13.6 (250.457 km/h)
in 1971 (practice).

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