16th overall victory of Porsche at the 1998 Le Mans 24 Hours in a Porsche 911 GT1

Allan McNich / Stéphane Ortelli / Uwe Alzen - Porsche 911 GT1 - 1998 Le Mans 24 Hours

Despite the victory of the Joest WSC  95, Le Mans had been a disaster for Porsche in 1997. None of the factory nor customer teams Porsche 911 GT1s has a trouble free race. All of them coped with mysterious and unprecedented overheating. Porsche had to do better at the 1998 Le Mans 24 Hours. So the engineers, under the leadership of chief-engineer Norbert Singer redesigned and improved the car.

From a steel chassis, Porsche now used a carbon fibre chassis. Furthermore was the greenhouse got narrower. Where the Porsche 911 GT1 97 used a porsche 964 Speedster windscreen, the GT1 98 moved to a wraparound windscreen.  an.Key driver of the Porsche works team in 1998 was Allan McNish. At the Le Mans 24H he shared a car with Stéphane Ortelli and Laurent Aiello. The trio  Jörg Müller, Bob Wollek  and Uwe Alzen took the other  works Porsche 911 GT1 98 .

The Porsche and Joest factory teams , ready for the 1998 Le Mans 24 – (C) Unknown

During the test days inMay, the improvements showed their  usefulness.  Alan McNish drove the fastest laps, and he was 6 seconds faster as the year before. That looked promising for the race day. The Porsche #25 ( Uwe Alzen, Bob Wollek and Jörg Muller) took a 4th place, followed by the Porsche #26 ( Allan McNish, Stéphane Ortelli and Laurent Aiello). Surprisingly, the 2 Zakspeed Porsche 911 GT1 98s did not prequalify.

In the first laps of the races, the Toyotas took an impressive lead, of several seconds followed by the 2 works Porsches. However, it soon turned out that the Toyota’s started with the minimum of fuel, to make a point. After 2 hours of racing,   2 major players had folded their tents. Both Mercedes-Benz and BMW had already retired.  The 2 Toyota’s were in the lead followed by the Porsches.  When Eric Bernard, in 2nd position, spinned, the Porsches took over his position.   Thierry Boutsen had the lead until the gearbox of his Toyota broke. His crew replaced the gearbox very quickly, but not fast enough to prevent the Porsches from taking the lead.

Le Mans 1998 24 hours - Winning car Porsche 911 GT1 '98 (No. 26), drivers- Allan McNish, Stéphane Ortelli and Laurent Aiello, in the background Norbert Singer
Le Mans 1998: Winning car Porsche 911 GT1 ’98 (No. 26), drivers: Allan McNish, Stéphane Ortelli and Laurent Aiello, in the background Norbert Singer.

Weather was very unpredictable at Le Mans. Rain could pour down at one corner, while the next was bone dry.  This changing weather conditions caused a spin of Jörg Muller causing damage to the undertray of his GT1. This resulted in a 30 minute loss for repair.  McNish built up the lead and had a 3 lap advantage at sunrise. However, bad luck stroke down on him soon. A leak in the cooling system forced him to the pits and a 30 minute repair was his part too.  Long enough for Boutsen / Kelleners / Lee to take the lead back. But again, the gearbox of the Toyota proved to be the weakpoint, and McNish could take over the lead again, with the other works Porsche at a short distance behind.

Le Mans 1998, 6./7. june, Laurent Aiello, Allan McNish, Stéphane Ortelli, Porsche 911 GT1

With his gearbox repaired, Boutsen started chasing McNish and within 45minutes, he was little more than a minute behind. It looked like it would only take some more time before he could take over the lead again,and drive to victory. However, it seemed Boutsen had asked too much from the gearbox. With only 70 minutes to go, it broke again. The end for Toyota. McNish took the Porsche 911 GT1 98 to the finish, followed by the other works Porsche with Jörg Müller at the wheel.  It was a hard battle.  A well deserved victory at the 1998 Le Mans 24 Hours and the 16th overall victory for Porsche at the Circuit de La Sarthe.

Enjoy the sound of the Le Mans winning Porsche 911 GT1 (Porsche Sound Nacht 2018)

Pictures courtesy Porsche AG and unknown