GULF PORSCHE 917
John Wyer was born on 11th December 1909 in the town of Kidderminster in the county of Worcestershire being famous for it`s carpet production. At the age of 18 Wyer started his career as an apprentice at Sunbeam, at that time the only British company being involved in Grand Prix Racing. After engineering jobs at Solex and Monaco Motor and Engineering he joined Aston Martin in 1950 for being the boss of their competition programme. He stayed with them for 13 years, finally in the position of their technical and managing director in personal union. In 1959 Aston Martin won the sportscar worldchampionship of makes and also the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Also supplied with the practical experience of having been a racing driver in the cockpit of a Ferrari 166, a Bugatti and a HRG, John Wyer was a talent of extraordinary quality both in engineering and in managing. So it was no wonder, that he had been Ford`s preferred choice for organizing their GT40 project from 1963 on. The name of the new company was Ford Advanced Vehicles at Slough near London and the construction of the GT40 was made by Lola designer Eric Broadley. In 1967 John Wyer founded J.W. Automotive together with John Willment as the new company`s director and with the support of the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. The same time a contract was signed with US-American Gulf Oil Corporation giving the cars their characteristic bright blue and orange livery. J.W. Automotive created the Ford powered Gulf Mirage M1 prototype winning the 1000 kilometres endurance race of Spa Francorchamps in 1967. Due to a rule change the Ford GT40s returned to the tracks in 1968 in a modified version made by Wyer for winning both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Worldchampionship of Makes for Ford the same year. Another Le Mans triumph followed for the GT40 in 1969.
The Porsche 917 is the fastest series production car ever made in the world. Twenty-five models had to be built for the homologation as a 5.0 litre sportscar with a minimum weight of 800 kilograms as demanded by the rules of the Worldchampionship of Makes. These regulations allowed 3.0 litres prototypes (no minimum number of cars to be produced) and 5.0 litre sportscar (in a minimum series of 25) to compete in the endurance races having got distances of 24 hours (Le Mans, Daytona), of 12 hours (Sebring) or in most cases of 1000 kilometres ( Buenos Aires, Spa Francorchamps, Nuerburgring, Monza or Zeltweg for instance). After competing in Le Mans in the lower categories for nearly two decades Porsche definitely wanted to win the overall placings at the Sarthe. That was the reason, why Porsche, under the lead of their development director Ferdinand Piech ( many years later becoming the CEO of Volkswagen), decided to race a sportscar instead of the much cheaper prototype (that only was used on the narrow tracks of the Nuerburgring-Nordchleife and the Targa Florio on the Italian island of Sicily in the shape of the 908/03). The whole 917 project had cost 21 million D-Marks, step by step 46 cars of the 917 series had been built. The first 917 had been presented at the Geneva Motor Show in March of 1969, the homologation by the F.I.A. was made some weeks later in April. In the court of the Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen based Porsche factory (Porsche was an Austrian family enterprise with headquarter in Germany, because the US-American military administration had not allowed the existance of two car companies in their home country after World War II) twenty-five 917s stood in a row like being at the grid of Le Mans. A gap in the regulations had made it possible to get the F.I.A. licensing in the shape of a Kurzheck (short back) with the possibility to add an additional element to the the rear section only to be used on the long straights of Le Mans without being forced to construct a second series of 25 long back cars. But this compromise had been the reason for a lot of confusion in the early stage of development of the 917 in the summer of 1969.
The design of the 917 had begun in July 1968 under conditions of absolute secrecy. Enzo Ferrari could not believe, that the originally 4494 cc 12 cylinder engine was air-cooled, when he got to know of the project. Very soon it had become clear, that chassis and engine had worked perfectly from the beginning on. But in really the 917 had been very bad in handling especially at top speeds on the straights. Porsche`s works drivers Jo Siffert, Udo Schuetz, Gerhard Mitter, Kurt Ahrens, Hans Herrman and Willi Kauhsen considered the car being extremely dangerous, because the car absolutely did not follow the direction the driver had steered it. Very soon the 917 had got the nickname Geschwuer (boil), heat up to 70°C in the cockpit caused additional hatred. Many of the works drivers refused to drive the 917 in the rounds of the 1969 worldchampionship. But things looked very promising, when Attwood/Elford scored a superoir 21 hours lasting lead in the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours before retiring by a technical defect. But the two Britons had been driving the long version of the 917, while the handling problems only were noticed at the short back. At Zeltweg in August Jo Siffert again refused to drive the 917 for the reasons known since the early spring of 1969. Siffert preferred to take part in the 1000 kilometres race on the newly constructed Oesterreichring in the Austrian Alpes driving the 3.0 litre Porsche 908 prototype making him score better lap times than with the more powerful 4.5 litre 917. Then his boss Ferdinand Piech came to his charismatic number one driver from Switzerland: Mr Siffert, you would do me a great personal favour to drive the 917 despite all the problems happening at the moment. Siffert did, and together with his co-driver Kurt Ahrens he gave an exciting hunt to the problematic car on the modern and very safe Austrian circuit to score the maiden victory to the 917 by a great personal performance of both the drivers. A few days after the race a small group of Porsche engineers met some technicians of J.W. Automotive at the same track. After months of Porsche`s men struggeling against the 917`s bad handling it was John Wyer to detect the reason for it: It were the aerodynamics of the Kurzheck tail. Porsche`s Valentin Schäffer, a master craftsman in vehicle engineering, and a British technician took some aluminum sheets to enter a local smithy near the Oesterreichring. After some two hours they had solved the problem definitely. John Wyer became Porsche`s major partner for 1970 and 1971 (the others were Martini Racing and Porsche Salzburg) winning the worldchampionship in both years under the lead of their famous team manager David Yorke (former Vanwall, later Tecno and Brabham). In contrast to all successes all over the world, a Le Mans victory did not come the Gulf Porsches´way: In 1970 Attwood/Herrmann of Porsche Salzburg truimphed there in a 917 in the red and white colours of Austria, in 1971 Dr Marko/van Lennep of Martini Racing succeeded in white and the typical Martini stripes. A Gulf Porsche 917 Kurzheck won the 24 Hours of Le Mans only in fiction: In Steve McQueens famous movie of 1970.
After the 1971 season the 5.0 litre sportscar were no longer allowed in the Worldchampionship of Makes. Porsche gave further development to the 917 and transferred it into a Group 7 double-seater racing car. Roger Penske replaced John Wyer as Porsche`s partner in international motorsport, the L&M 917/10 won the CanAm of 1972 with George Follmer driving, Mark Donohue repeated that success with the SUNOCO 917/30 the following year. John Wyer developed a new Gulf Mirage prototype, using a 3.0 litre Ford Cosworth DFV engine according to the regulations being in action from 1972. A Ford Weslake V12, also scheduled for this car, was never successfully raced, but after three further years of fighting, the J.W. Automotive Gulf Mirage (named after a salt lake in the United States) scored another Le Mans win for John Wyer with Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell in 1975. It had been the last one for Wyer at the Sarthe. He sold his team the following year to retire from motor racing. John Wyer died in 1989 in Scottsdale/Arizona at the age of eighty.
researchracing Grand Prix News
Head of Development Department: Ferdinand Piech , Head of Research Department: Helmuth Bott , Research Engineer: Helmut Flegl , Porsche Team Manager: Rico Steinemann , Chassis Design: Hans Mezger , Engine Design: Paul Hensler, Hans Mezger Aerodynamics: Gerhard Schroeder, Porsche Test Driver: Willi Kauhsen , Chief Mechanic: Valentin Schäffer , J.W. Automotive Team Principal: John Wyer , J.W. Automotive Team Manager: David Yorke
Model Designation: Porsche 917 K, Porsche 917 LM , Years: 1969 - 1971 Chassis: Porsche Spaceframe (Aluminum) , 47 - 37 kg , Engine: 4907 cc, 12 Cylinders , 180° , air-cooled , 162 kg , 600 bhp at 8400 rpm , Bore: 86 mm , Stroke: 70.4 mm (1970) , Weight of complete Car: 827 kg (K) , 856 kg (LM) Length: 4140 mm (K) , 4780 mm (LM) , Teams 1970: Gulf-Porsche J.W. Automotive , Martini Racing , Porsche SalzburgGulf-Porsche 917s driven by Siffert/Redman (CH/GB) and Rodriguez/Kinnunen (MEX/FIN) in 1970 , Porsche World Champions of Makes in 1970 and 1971 , Le Mans Wins 1970 with Attwood/Herrmann (Porsche Salzburg) and 1971 with Dr Marko/van Lennep (Martini Racing)
» DOCUMENTATION 1
» DOCUMENTATION 2
» DOCUMENTATION 3
Technical detail images by Klaus Ewald taken at the 2005 Essen Motor Show, graphics by project * 2000
© 2006 by researchracing ________________________» Motorsport Extra _____________________________»» Contents