Victory for Gijs van Lennep and Helmut Marko in the 1971 Le Mans 24 Hours

Gijs van Lennep and Helmut Marko win the 1971 Le Mans 24 Hours in Porsche 917-053

The qualifying sessions were quite successful for Porsche. No less than 3 Porsche 917’s at the leading positions on the start grid. Pole position was taken by Pedro Rodriguez and Jacky Oliver in the Porsche 917  #18 of the J. W. Automotive Engineering. Gérard Larousse and Vic Elford follow in 2nd position in a Porsche 917 #21 of the Martini International Racing Team. 3rd on the start grid were Derek Bell and Jo Siffert in another Porsche 917 #17 of the J.W. Automotive Engineering. Mark Donohue and David Hobbs take place 4 in the Ferrari 512LM and the duo Gijs Van Lennep and Helmut Marko make the top 5 complete in the Porsche 917 #22. (Chassis 917-053) Their car was the lightest of all Porsche 917’s with a magnesium chassis. 1971 was the year the Martini Racing Team entered “the pig” Porsche 917 (Chassis 917-023)at the Le Mans 24 hours with Willy Kauhsen and Reinhold Jöst as drivers. 

The pink pig Porsche 917 at le Mans 1971
The pink pig Porsche 917 at le Mans 1971 with Willi Kauhsen and Reinhold Jöst at the wheel.

Maybe the success of the Porsche 917s was partly due to the absence of the works Ferraris and the withdrawal of the Alfa Romeos. However, no one can say that it was a boring race. The Porsche 917’s sure brought spectacle. They set some impressive records at the Porsche 917 final appearance at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Willy Kauhsen and Reinhold Jöst left the race after an accident.

The Martini Racing Team purchased cars and equipment of the Porsche Salzburg team that was successful with a victory for Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood in the Porsche 917 (Chassis 917-023). They sort of allied with them against the long-tail Porsche 917s of the J.W. Automotive Engineering. Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep followed team orders not to race very aggressively and to play a waiting game. The Gulf livery Porsche 917’s of Pedro Rodriguez / Jacky Oliver and Derek Bell / Jo Siffert both had to abandon the race at about half of the race.  When the 2 Ferrari 512LM of Mark Donohue / David Hobbs and Nino Vaccarella /José Juncadella leave the race with respectively engine and gearbox problems, the strategy for Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep seems to work. 

Experimental Porsche 917

Because their Porsche 917 was experimental, it wasn’t expected to win the race. At about 4 am, Gijs van Lennep and Helmut Marko take the lead in the race. But, at about noon, there was a problem for the #22 of the Martini Racing Team. A cracked brake disc could foul up everything. The #19 Porsche 917K of John Wyer Automotive Engineering was trailing them by 30 minutes. Changing discs and pads was no option. There was only one solution Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep were told: don’t brake.  As a result, that increased the lap times, but the John Wyer Automotive Engineering Porsche 917 encountered gearbox problems. 

In the end, Gijs van Lennep and Helmut Marko won the 1971 Le Mans 24 Hours and the Porsche Gulf finished second. Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep established a distance record (5,335 kilometers at an average of 222 km/h) that would hold until 2010 when it was beaten by Audi. 

Pictures and video courtesy Porsche AG and unknown

Interesting books to read: Derek Bell, all my Porsche racesGulf Porsche 917 by Jay Gilotti , Porsche 917 by Walter Näher