I have mentioned many times that my favourite road going Porsche is the 993 – the last of the 911’s with an air-cooled engine. Not just that, it was also the perfect size.
Over the past 30 years or so when car manufacturers produce their next “new” model, it’s always wider, longer and faster than its predecessor, so that it appears to represent better value than its previous model.
Then just look at most of our household garages – certainly the ones in houses built over 30 years ago, and you can see that you can hardly swing a cat in them they are so small. They were built at a time when small cars were small, like Mini’s, and Datsun 100A’s, and “family cars” were Cortina’s and Vauxhall Victors. Look at these cars today and they are tiny – a modern Mini looks bigger and wider than an old Cortina.
Anyway, back to the 993.
On one of our annual customer trips to the Le Mans 24-hour race Robin Donovan, our trip organiser was also piloting a racing 993 GT2 which was entered by the French team called “Larbre”.
This car was very quick, but was ageing somewhat so was not really that competitive in the late 90’s as Porsche had been producing the new 996 model for some years.
This was the 911 for the nutters; too much power; the old 911 overhang at the back of the car; 2-wheel drive, and all this on a relatively narrow wheel track.
That year Robin had pulled a master stroke and arranged for our party to gain access to not only the grid before the race – where the Hawaiian Tropic girls were only too happy to talk to us, but like the rest of our group I was there for the racing.
We were also able to get into the pits during the race, and that was a fantastic insight into what really went on during this great event.
The layman (me) tended to think that the Le Mans 24-hour race was a sprint for the first couple of hours, where the drivers drive hard for the benefit of their sponsors and TV cameras and then ease back to try and get to the finish.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
We were all in the pits at about midnight, so the cars had been racing for about 8 hours and it had also just started to rain.
J P Jarier, the ex F 1 driver, had just taken over the driving and set about chasing the class leading Corvette.
Now, that GT2 was an animal to drive at the best of times, but in the dark, and in the wet it must have been like trying to tie satin bows onto a pack of thug owned vicious dogs. That car was tail happy in the dry, but in the wet was a nightmare: add to this the fact that the headlights were poor and the wipers apparently lifted off the screen at high speeds, then it’s fair to say that the drivers had their hands full driving this car at full chat.
However, during his first stint in the wet, Jarier’s class was showing through as every lap he knocked many seconds off the advantage which the Corvette held over his car. He was in such a groove that he decided to stay out for a double stint.
At the end of the second stint, it was still dark and still raining and Jarier had made up the 40 second deficit on the Corvette and indeed managed to pull out a 15 second lead on him.
A remarkable effort by a top-class driver in a brilliant but difficult car.
When he stopped his stint what we witness was remarkable.
Jarier was so physically spent after several hours of driving at ten tenths, in the wet, with poor visibility from his wipers and headlights, that he had to be helped from the car, and was taken to a seating area at the back of the pits when he sat down and was barely able to speak for a good 5 minutes – such was his state of utter exhaustion.
So, take it from me, the Le Mans 24-hour race isn’t just a blast for the first couple of hours, then stick on the cruise control and get your arm out the window.
It’s a fantastic test of both car and driver and can make or break either at any time.
That Porsche 911/993GT2 – a fabulous and terrifying racing version of the world’s finest sports car.