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Icons at the Le Mans Classic Centenary

Submitted by on August 7, 2023

By Marcel Hundscheid/Speed-O-Graphica

At the recently held Le Mans Classic some very interesting cars appeared in the different grids that raced, so we wanted to take a closer look at them and their history.

Porsche 917 LH chassis 917-043

During historic motorsport events, the question arises from time to time “is this an original or a replica?” Replicas have been popping up left and right lately, but it is a fact that we can be happy to see these types of cars in action. Replicas have their benefits – especially while the original is in a museum because the car is either too significant or no longer race worthy. Younger generations to also get to know what are often predecessors of today’s racing icons. One such case is Porsche 917-043, a car which we could almost write a book about. It is one of the historic Porsches with a double life as a racing car.

Chassis 917-043 rolled off the production line at Porsche in 1970. Porsche transferred this chassis to the Martini Racing Team with the aim of participating in the 24 hours of Le Mans that year. 917-043 was given a striking colour scheme, adorned with the well-known Martini logos and the striking nickname ‘The Hippie Car’.

Gerard Larousse and Willy Kauhsen drove 917-043 to finish second, behind the winning 917K of Richard Attwood and Hans Hermann. The short life of 917-043 came to an abrupt end in November 1970 when Jo Siffert crashed during a test at Hockenheim. The remains of the car were then divided into three pieces, the body of which was put into storage by Porsche. Later the body and chassis were repaired, with Porsche assigning chassis number 917-040 to the ‘new’ car. Vasek Polak bought 917-040 in 1972 and it moved into the possession of Massimo Pedrazzi in 1975, still its custodian today.

To make things more confusing, the second life of chassis 917-043 started in 1971. Porsche used a spare chassis (917-044) that was built up for the 1971 24 Hours of Le Mans in the legendary Gulf livery, but was registered under chassis number 917-043. Jackie Oliver and Pedro Rodriguez qualified the car in pole position but Porsche had to withdraw 917-043 after an oil issue during the race.

After that race Porsche renumbered it into 917-044. Only the front of the car was used on chassis 917/10-00,  in fact a CanAm car. Chassis 917-044 was rebuilt and is nowadays on display in the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum. At the Le Mans Classic 2023 the car that rolled off the production line in 1970 was driven by its current owner Massimo Pedrazzi, along with Gerard Larousse and Claudio Roddaro.

Nissan NPT-90 chassis 90/08

Nissan Performance Technology Incorporated, abbreviated NPTI, developed the Nissan NPT-90 in 1990 for Nissan Motors. Instead of using a Lola chassis, they developed a brand new car, powered with an improved version of the 3-litre turbocharged 950 hp VG30 V6-engine.

In the hands of Geoff Brabham, Bob Earl, Chip Robinson and Derek Daly, the NPT-90 was very successful and won the IMSA GT Championship in 1990 and 1991. As a result Nissan won both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championship twice in a row. Nissan’s NPT-90 was the car to beat in the IMSA GT Championship and is thus amongst the most powerful racing cars in history. At the Le Mans Classic 2023 chassis 90/09 that was raced by Geoff Brabham appeared on track and was driven by Pierre-Brice Mena.

Toyota GT-One chassis LM907

Another interesting car that attracted quite some attention was the Toyota GT-One. Chassis LM907 appeared in Endurance Racing Legends, twenty four years after it set the pole position at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1999.

Originally Toyota built two cars for homologation purposes to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1998 and 1999 in the GT1 and LM-GTP categories. After the demise of Group C, it was a chance for the marque to return to the world’s most important 24-hour race. For homologation purposes 25 road-legal variants of the GT-One were mandatory for the 1997 season, but the ACO reduced it for 1998 into just one car. Toyota installed a 3.6 litre V8 bi-turbo engine that produced 630 horsepower, although the road version was slightly detuned.

Although Toyota had bet on victory, the team had little luck when the GT-One debuted in 1998. Geoff Lee, Ralf Kelleners and Thierry Boutsen had a good chance of winning the race, when gearbox problems forced the team to retire the car. Halfway through the race, the No. 28 Toyota in the hands of Martin Brundle, Emmanuel Collard and Eric Helary had already retired with technical problems. Toyota was then consoled with a top ten finish by the No. 27 car of Ukyo Katayama, Toshio Suzuki and Keiichi Tsuchiya. The trio finished in ninth place, twenty five laps behind the winning car.

However, 1999 turned out to be a completely different year. When Mercedes decided to withdraw their CLRs after both Peter Dumbreck and Mark Webber flipped their cars during practice, Toyota had to compete against Audi with a single R8C. Ukyo Katayama, Kelichi Tsuchiya and Toshio Suzuki reached second place towards the final part of the race. All hopes of an eventual victory were dashed by a flat left rear tire. Nevertheless, the car eventually managed to cross the finish line in second place. Then there was one more race ahead, the 1000 km of Fuji, after which Toyota decided to move all GT-Ones to the museum.

The car that participated at the Le Mans Classic in the Endurance Racing Legends is nowadays privately owned. Chassis LM907 was restored and maintained by JMB Classic, an unique car that is actually the only car from the six works cars and owned privately.

In a next episode of icons at the Le Mans Classic Centenary we take a closer look at a special Porsche 962.

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