What do you do with a suddenly obsolete, formerly pink Jaguar racing car that says Bud Light on the sides? Expatriate it to Germany, cut the roof off, give it a 15 year old engine, and win Le Mans twice. Easy, if you’re Porsche, TWR, and Reinhold Joest.
With the legislated demise of Group C at the end of 1993, a golden era came to an end. A new and uncertain future followed, with new rules for the “World Sports Car” relegating the top prototypes to a rather ungainly aesthetic box while unwittingly laying the groundwork for perhaps the greatest rulebook exploitation in Le Mans history with the “production” GT1 class.
Thinking quickly and needing a replacement for their wildly successful but no longer legal 962 (although Kremer had an idea there...), Porsche prevailed upon Tom Walkinshaw’s TWR outfit to use their suddenly obsolete but state of the art Jaguar XJR-14 chassis #791 (according to several sources, although RacingSportsCars calls it #691 and is normally dead on), minus its 3.5L Cosworth HB V8, for a WSC program. It would be cheaper to use this as a basis for a new machine than starting from scratch. Thus the Porsche/TWR WSC-95/001 was born. For more on the XJR-14's remarkable story, check out Raphael Orlove’s great piece on Jalopnik here (I should also note that his piece indicates that WSC/001 was in fact an unused extra XJR-14 chassis, which conflicts with a couple of other sources so I’d like to sort that out). In an effort to cut costs, WSC mandated an open top with a wide roll structure, flat floors, and a single element rear wing, so the sexy XJR was cut into a somewhat clunky but effective roadster, given the necessary aerodynamic simplifications (including losing its defining bi-plane rear wing), and repowered with Porsche’s twin-turbo Type 935 flat six in 3.0L form, essentially the 956 and 962's engine, which still had enough power to win and was well known as bombproof.
Porsche was thus set to resume its world dominance, until days before the 1995 season kicked off at the Daytona 24 Hours when IMSA saw fit to both reduce the size of the intake restrictors and add 100lbs to turbocharged cars, with twin-turbo cars suffering the most. Believing this would render their car uncompetitive, Porsche pulled the plug on the program. Enter Reinhold Joest, former racing driver turned team owner, whom you may remember more recently from Audi’s Le Mans program. He enjoyed a special relationship with the factory and had won for them before, and asked Porsche to give him the chassis and provide development support, which he would pay for. They agreed, and with chassis TWR chassis 791/Porsche WSC-95/001 in his workshops he also built up a second chassis to match (WSC-95/002), and went to Le Mans with two cars in 1996.
I seem to recall some posts around here about a certain McLaren F1, Le Mans 1995, something like that... maybe you’ve heard of it. Well, Porsche wasn’t going to let that fly and would arrive in La Sarthe in 1996 with perhaps their most egregious exploitation of the rules ever (and that’s saying a lot), the 911 GT1. This was a 911 in name only, arguably putting even the Moby Dick 935/78 to shame. Porsche drove it right through a roughly 911-shaped loophole that simply called for a “production” version. So Porsche built 2 of those. I tell that car’s story to demonstrate the competition that this TWR-Porsche would face. McLarens, factory Porsche prototypes cleverly disguised as GT cars, also Porsche-powered and potent Courage C36 and Kremer K8 prototypes (remember I mentioned they had ideas about the 962 in the WSC era?) Riley-Oldsmobile MkIIIs, and Ferrari 333SPs, all vying for the win. Nonetheless, it would be this car that took the lead a few laps in and never really relinquished it, taking the win on Sunday afternoon in the hands of Davy Jones, Alex Wurz, and Manuel Reuter, only one lap ahead of a charging Porsche GT1. Partly this was down to an impeccable race from the drivers and team, slightly better fuel economy from the car’s 3.0L engine (the factory GT1s ran, guess what, 3.2L versions of this engine!), and troubles for many of its rivals. But that’s not this version.
That’s right, this car won twice, this being the ‘97 livery. As his contract with Porsche specified that he got to keep the car in the event of a victory, Joest dragged the same car out in 1997 for a one car effort, got Michele Alboreto, Stefan Johansson, and a Danish rookie named Tom Kristensen to drive it, and again won by one lap, this time over a McLaren F1 GTR. Not only that, but it managed the hat trick of pole position, fastest race lap, and the win, despite not being the fastest car on track lap for lap. Its unassailable reliability and stellar driving again won the day. For Kristensen, a personal hero of mine who I was lucky to meet once at Laguna Seca, this was the first of his nine Le Mans victories, a record that I can’t honestly see ever being broken. Remarkably, this was the second time Joest and Porsche had won Le Mans twice running in the same car (also with Johansson), the first one being featured here:
Not bad for a rather storied chassis that (according to RacingSportsCars) won everywhere from Mid-Ohio to Le Mans over years in various iterations, and would also revert to Porsche’s care for 1998 and a revamp as the WSC-98. In that form, it very nearly won its last race, the inaugural Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in fall of 1998, placing second by a slim margin.
This model is in 1/43 by IXO, another very sharp model from them. It was a killer eBay score that I got with another period Le Mans winner to be featured on another Teutonic Tuesday before that great weekend in June. Happy Tuesday, I feel the need for another LALD Hump-Day Haiku tomorrow.