1981 Porsche 917K/81 Pilots: B. Wollek, G. Chasseuil, X. Lapeyre Team: Porsche Kremer Racing Team Race: DNF (GR. 6 class) at Le Mans in 1981 Spark - S0197 (resin)
The Porsche 917 left a mark in motorsports in the early 70’s. Notwithstanding the very convoluted start in 1969, with refinements the 917 managed to win at Le Mans the following year. And just for good measure, won again in 1971. With that, the 917 was literally dominating the racing scene, so FIA had to act. For 1972 FIA changed the regulations, and from all-conquering race machine the 917 became illegal to race. Since Porsche could not use the 917 anymore in FIA’s World Sportscar Championship or at Le Mans, they shifted their focus. Therefore, Porsche looked to the US and the Can-Am Championship. Using the 917 as a base, they developed the 917/10 and soon after the mighty 917/30 Turbopanzer.
But once again Porsche was a victim of its own success. The 917/30 annihilated the competition in such a way in 1973 that for the next season the rules changed. A fuel consumption limit was imposed, and that effectively killed the car. So after making history in the WSC in 1970 and 1971 and at Can-Am in 1973, the 917 was finally out of the game. Well, it didn’t race anymore, but in 1975 Mark Donohue broke the closed circuit lap record with his old 917/30…
And then the mighty 917 was truly done. After the 1975 record run you could only see one at historical races or at the Porsche Museum.
However, enter the Kremer brothers. Kremer Racing made a name for themselves in the racing world with the 935. In fact, their 935/K3 even managed an overall win at La Sarthe. So they certainly knew how to talk the talk and walk the walk. In the late 70s they started collecting old 917 parts with the idea of making a show or concept car – the 917K/81. Concurrently, in 1980 FIA announced a rule change for Le Mans. The 1981 season would be a transition between the old Group 6 and the new Class C categories.
As a result, a loophole appeared in the rule book. For 1981 a closed car could run in Group 6 as long as there was some sort of permanent opening on the roof. So Kremer proposed cutting a hole in the cockpit’s roof so that the pilot could see the roof-mounted rear-view mirror. They showed sketches to ACO and they approved the car.
The idea was to take the original design, update it with current technology and build the new car from scratch. Porsche also approved the project, and helped with blueprints for the original 917. Due to improvements in aerodynamics and consequent higher speeds, the (tubular) chassis came out stiffer and heavier than the original. Interestingly, current tires on the 917K/81 gave Kremer a lot of headache. Because of better cornering abilities it was difficult to adapt them to the old-school suspension geometry of the 917. To power the car Porsche supplied an original 4909 cm³ flat-12 Typ 912 engine.
On race day the 917K/81 started out okay, though not great. Up to the third hour it was in ninth, but it then started to lose ground. But on Saturday night a fractured oil line produced a leak that resulted in the car abandoning the race just before the seventh hour. With that, the 917 gave it’s last hurrah at La Sarthe…
Without a doubt, this is an important car for me. If the Geneva presentation car is the alpha, this is the omega to the 917. This is a true grail model, as important for me as the winning #23. But it’s a rare beast; released many years ago, you can only find it in the hands of collectors. So it’s always pricey. I fortunately got this one for a reasonable price – NOT cheap, though. But in general it’s HTF and far from a bargain. And unless Spark reissues it, I don’t think prices will get any better. BUT, a must for the 917 fanboy.
And with that, the perfect model to close 2019 🏁.