At the end of the day, it’s time to thank Michael Cosson, former president of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, or ACO for short. But it’s not time yet. One morning that was a few degrees too cold, we were still standing in front of a car that looked like a cross between a Porsche 911 and a shipwrecked whale.
It has a gap like a Soviet farm tractor and is difficult to get into. “We,” that includes longtime Formula 1 driver Mark Webber, a sweet Australian with a dry sense of humour. “Anyone can be average, that’s why there are so many,” he said, and by looking at the car: “Porsche doesn’t do anything average.”
Even for a special Porsche
You can say so. Even if we haven’t driven a meter, one thing is clear: this thing is quite special, even by Porsche standards. Only built to win the most prestigious car races in the world and at the same time forced to prove itself in traffic, at least in theory: the 911 GT1, only 25 of which were produced from 1996 to 98 and finally became the winner at Le Mans.
Today we wanted to see if it also passed the day-to-day test on the way through the Alps to Italy, with everything from serpentine to city traffic, and in the end we still had to shop. It was just a small thing, that must have been from the start, because there wasn’t enough room for the jacket.
Everything here is completely made of carbon
We slide into the black leather shell over the extra wide carbon-coated rocker panels and grille frame that rises towards the rear. The door closed very slowly because it was so light. Like the rest of the body, it is made of carbon, the plexiglass panels are glued in place. But it just sounds simple.
Out in the Porsche 911 GT1/97
Everything is covered in carpet, plastic and leather, including the dashboard. It’s from the last air-cooled 993 generation, the steep center console is different here: two rows of switches, a sports steering wheel without airbags and a towering gear lever. The distance between the steering wheel and the lever is only a hand’s width. “Look at that! For a race car driver, it’s perfect,” said Webber.
Even with this super special 911, the engine starts with the ignition to the left of the steering wheel and then makes quite a bit of noise. After two or three seconds of the starter organ, it falls into a subdued bass. Rigid engine mounts – some of the generally low vibrations from the boxer engine get into the support structure. It consists of a 911 front end and a rear frame mounted at seat height.
From the speed of 70, the conversation becomes difficult
At that time, crash tests for road approval were avoided (front) and racing technology was installed (middle and rear). In the center sits the 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine, which is descended from the legendary C-962 Group in terms of body and details: cylinder cooling and identical mixture preparation, for example.
Driving shows why there are earplugs in the car: when pushing, the gearbox mounted behind the engine grinds gently to the bone, and at a certain speed the lack of insulation becomes noticeable. From the age of 70, conversations get tough, while the GT1 goes really well to over 3000 laps. “This is where it comes alive!” Webber shouted, wiping the rev counter at 4,000 to 7,000 rpm with his index finger as the Porsche suddenly roared forward.
When he releases his foot from the gas, the whip threatens: the neck muscles, which hold 544 hp, have nothing to do, the head jerks forward before the brain recognizes the change in inertia. The eight-piston fixed calipers on the front (rear: four) axle are not used. Porsche once calculated that the delay should correspond to 2000 hp.
You don’t need a jacket here
The fact that there is no room for a jacket turns out to be less dramatic from time to time. The heat generated by the engine behind the seat is in the car, at every stop we open the door to get out. “Typical race car,” said Webber. The air conditioner of the 911 just produces frost for no apparent reason. Such details indicate a small series. Only two road-going GT1s were made in 1996 from the first 993 style version, and only one from the 98’s ultra-slim version.
With 21 cars, that’s on top of all 97 variants in 996 optics, from which the 25 road cars required for GT1 registration come. Prices jumped from 1.1 million euros in 2012 to 5.1 in 2017 and 12.3 in 2020. Our factory prototypes can now be worth millions like AUTO BILD KLASSIK in a few years, which is 15.
How fitting the trip through Italy would drag on and Mark Webber had an appointment before we could go shopping. “Bye, mate,” he waves curtly, and it’s up to me. It has only one catch: the traffic of the Italian provincial capital after work.
Reverse parking guide
Okay, the gears work like in any modern car and the two-plate clutch works flawlessly while the racing Porsche glides unspectacularly. You can even see what’s going on behind the car through the rearview mirror mounted far forward. You just don’t see exactly where this “behind the car” starts. With no rear window, shoulder view blocked by the B-pillar, a million questions must be solved by guesswork, wherever the Porsche is between the dented Golf and Alfa.
You can forget about reverse parking, even Mark Webber allowed himself to be instructed. The Porsche finally slides forward on the flower stand. French royals wore carnations in their buttonholes on their way to the scaffold as a sign of bravery. We almost deserved it today.
We are now indebted to Michel Cosson: the Frenchman who, from 1992, ran the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the organizer of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1992 he wrote the GT1 class into regulations as sport prototypes became scarce at the end of Group C. Without him, this Porsche would never have existed.