1969 Porsche 917LH Pilots: J. Woolfe, H. Linge Team: John Woolfe Racing Race: DNF (S 5.0) at Le Mans in 1969 Ebbro - 43742 (diecast)
The Porsche 917 will always be remembered as an outstanding machine. After all, it was the first Porsche to win at Le Mans, in 1970. At the time it was undoubtedly the most advanced racing car to race at La Sarthe. That being so, in 1971 it won again, and was so dominant that FIA changed the rules to outlaw it. However, it did not start on the top. To exploit a loophole in the rules, Porsche’s engineering department rushed the project. When the first car was ready, in early 1969, it was a diamond in the rough. A very rough diamond, in fact. The new car had serious aerodynamic problems, to the point that test drivers called it “The Ulcer”. The 917 was dangerously unstable at high speeds, and Porsche engineers just couldn’t fix it. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop Porsche from offering the car for sale.
That’s when John Woolfe enters this story. Born in 1932, Woolfe was a wealthy and avid motorsport enthusiast. He even founded his own racing team, John Woolfe Racing, and was heavily involved with drag racing. In spite of most of the team’s exploits happening at the quarter mile, Woolfe also raced sports cars. In fact, he even raced at La Sarthe in 1968, piloting a Chevron B12. But a blown head gasket retired the car early in the race. For the following year he wanted to try again, but this time with a better car. So he bought the absolute best race car that money could buy in 1969: a Porsche 917. The 24 Heures du Mans would take place on June 14th, but he received chassis #917-005 just a few days ahead of practice sessions. His 917LH #10 was the first 917 that he ever drove.
Nonetheless, things started out bad. During practice Woolfe over-revved the engine and destroyed it, but Porsche sent him a new one. They even sent him Herbert Linge, one of their factory drivers, to be his teammate. Moreover, Porsche advised that Linge should start the race, since Woolfe had basically no experience with the 917. But his family came from Britain to see him race, so he decided to drive first. As always, the race started with the “Le Mans start”, and like most, Woolfe did not attach his safety belts. He started out aggressively, and even earned a few positions. But coming out of the Mulsanne, right after the Maison Blanche bend, he put two wheels on the grass. His 917LH #10 spun and crashed at a barrier wall. The car parted in two, and without a safety belt, he was ejected and died on impact.
John Woolfe’s 917 #10 was the only 917 involved in a fatal accident during a race*. The 917 debuted in May, at the 1000 Km of Spa, and barely one month later, there was a fatality. The car just wasn’t ready yet, though Woolfe’s inexperience played a huge part in the tragedy. Fortunately though, Porsche figured out what was wrong with the car, and just one year later it was a “good” race car. Since I’m a big 917 fan boy, I needed the 917 #10, even with such a sad story behind it. In scale it’s another VERY good Ebbro, just like my #12 and #14 cars. But I think that the 917LH #10 is only for the 917 (diehard) fans. Definitively not a nice story attached to it.
*In 1985 Dieter Blatzheim fatally crashed his 917/10 at Nürburgring, during private tests.