Porsche 917K #2 – Spark

Published 12/21/22

1970 Porsche 917K #2
Pilots: P. Rodriguez, L. Kinnunen
Team: J. W. Automotive Engineering
Race: 1st overall (S 5.0 class) at Daytona in 1970
Spark - 43DA70 (resin)

Without a doubt, the Porsche 917 is one of the greatest race cars of all times. In the early 70s it was the pinnacle of motorsports, with nothing else coming remotely close. It was technically advanced and blistering fast, be it through straights or corners. However, it did not start out like that. When Porsche first introduced it in the Geneva auto show in March of 1969, the car’s looks and specs thrilled the motorsport world. Yet, test pilots were not happy with the car. In fact, among them they called the 917 “The Ulcer”, because it was terrifying to drive. Though technically advanced, the aerodynamics of the car were bloody awful. It was a handful to drive, and at high speeds it was very unstable. Aware of the issues, Porsche’s engineering department scrambled to find a solution.

What happens when you rush a race car project? The car stinks, and the 917 was no exception.

The 917 first raced at Spa, on May 11th, 1969, and it DNF due to engine issues. At Nürburgring, on June 1st, it only managed an 8th place. And then came Le Mans, two weeks later. Porsche entered three cars, though none finished. Worse of all, John Woolfe, piloting one of the cars, crashed and died at Maison Blanche. The 917 did manage a win at Zeltweg in October, however it was clear that the car was terrible. Porsche invested a fortune in the project, yet the car was rubbish. With the Zuffenhausen engineering department clueless, Porsche needed a different approach. So they went after John Wyer. After a lot of testing, Wyer’s chief engineer, John Horsman, discovered what the problem was. In a nutshell, there wasn’t enough downforce over the rear wheels. A new rear end resolved the issue, and the “new” 917K (Kurzheck = short tail) was ready.

917K #2
The 1970 Daytona race was the first battle of the “Porsche vs Ferrari War”.

Like magic, the 917’s new short tail fixed the car. From a deathtrap at high speeds it became a delight to drive. Confident in the 917K, Wyer took it to the 24 Hours of Daytona, the first race of the 1970 World Sportscar Championship season. He enrolled two cars, sporting the baby blue Gulf Oil colors. His pilots were Jo Siffert and Brian Redman in 917K #1 and Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen in 917K #2. Just like today, in the early 70s Daytona was a HUGE event. However, back then it was a circus, with every kind of car participating. Along with the blistering fast S 5.0 cars (917K and Ferrari 512S), there were cars like a Fiat 124, Volvo 122 and even a VW buggy 😮! With a total of 65 cars mixed up like that, I think it’s easy to imagine that things could get wild… 

917K #2
The “Daytona window”, above the windshield, was how pilots saw the track while on Daytona’s 31º (!) bankings.

On race day, 917K #1 started in second and 917K #2 in fourth, with a 512S in first. Yes, Wyer’s team sandbagged qualifying. When the checkered flag fell, both Gulf 917K blew by the Ferraris and in 30 minutes had a 5 seconds lead. Within three hours of racing, 917K #1 had an average speed of 196.9 km/h. As a comparison, the 1966 lap record was 172.8 km/h…😲 After nightfall, with a faulty headlight 917K#1 pitted and 917K #2 assumed the lead. In the following morning the Siffert/Redman car had a serious gearbox issue, and they parked the car. With that, Redman was assigned to 917K #2, since Leo Kinnunen didn’t speak English, hampering team communication. However, the Porsche mechanics decided to fix car #1. They did it in record time, and Siffert was back in the race in fourth.

917K #2
The 1970 race was Pedro Rodriguez’s third win at Daytona.

With car #1 fixed, Redman went back to his original car. Unphased by the pit drama, Pedro Rodriguez continued to hammer the 917K #2. In the meantime, Redman and Siffert drove pedal-to-the-metal, and reached the third place Ferrari. However, there was some confusion about the 917K #1 lead over the third place 512S. With that, Redman piloted like a lunatic and eventually (and inadvertently) got three laps ahead of the Ferrari. In the end, however, Rodriguez finished 45 (!!!) laps ahead of the second place 917K #1. The 917K #2 completed 724 laps and 4439.28 km, with a record average speed of 184.86 km/h. Truly impressive, since that distance record for the Daytona 24 Hours would stand until 1987. And Brian Redman received credit for driving both the first place and second place cars 😂.

From show car to ulcer to the most fantastic racing machine of the 70s.

I think that it’s more than obvious that I’m a HUGE 917 fanboy. After all, It’s the coolest race car of the 70s. Period. Moreover, the 1970 Daytona race is one of the coolest racing stories ever. With that, the winning 917K #2 was always a grail model for me. Unfortunately though, it is almost as rare as hen’s teeth. And expensive. Or at least that’s the case for the Spark version. Minichamps also produces this car in 1:43, and it’s easier to find. However, the Daytona window is only painted on. Therefore, for me it was either finding a Spark or not having one at all. And I got lucky, since I found this one locally (only “reasonably” expensive 😫). On eBay, when one shows up, the price is normally absurd. So if you can find one for a digestible price, go for it – the model is outstanding!

Without a doubt, one of the coolest race stories ever.

I first watched this video days after it first came out. And ever since I was saving it to post when I finally found a 917K #2 for the W-143 Garage. John Ficarra, as usual, tells a great tale about that race at VinWiki. Around 16 minutes long and worth every minute. Also, over at Sports Cars Digest, Louis Galanos has what I consider THE best write-up about the 1970’s 24 Hours of Daytona. Well worth the read for overall details of the race.

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