This is the story of the fastest car Ferrari had ever built. Sadly also the story of a Ferrari that had no chance against the all-conquering 917 in 1970 and 1971. Back in the late 60s when Porsche was still a young manufacturer, they invested everything they had but after all succeeded with the development of purpose-built prototype racing car made entirely within the new Group 6 homologation rules laid out by the C.S.I. (Commission Sportive International).
The new rules from 1969 allowed 6-liters cars to race as long as they are produced in a small homologation series of 25 production units. Ferrari quickly realized that they had no chance with the 3-Liter P4 and started working on its successor. 512 S was first introduced to the public at a press conference in November 1969. The chassis was similar to the one in P4 with a semi-monocoque design. The engine was a direct development to the one used in Can-Am series, now fitted with twin overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and fuel injection made by Lucas. First, 512s had around 550 hp, but only a year later they had leveled the 918 performance with 620 hp at 9 000 rpm.
The Ferrari 512S, used in the 1970 season, and its successor the 512M are among the most iconic Ferrari sports-racing cars. And you have to remember that. Ferarri was still the leading name in motorsport, they had the best and most know drivers including Mario Andretti, John Surtees, Clay Ragazzoni, Jacky Ickx, Ronnie Peterson and Derek Bell. Their rivalry against the 917s was spectacular. At one side you had a faster car, but on the other Porsche 917 benefitted from greater reliability.
One of the most memorable races was the 1970 Le Mans 24 hours. Just one and a half into the race rain began to fall. Three factory and two private held 512S retired due to crashes or engine failures. At 8 PM the rain became heavier. The last works Ferrari, driven by Shetty and Jacky Ickx, was sixth and due to Jackie’s magic behind the wheel, he managed to bring the car to second overall at midnight. Unluckily an accident threw them out of the race. Nine out eleven 512s did not finish that year.
Porsche won their first Le Mans title.
The 1970 race of Le Mans is one to be remembered. 24 hours of heavy rain, high-speed accidents, failures and broken dreams. All eyes were on Ferrari and Porsche teams. Both companies debuted their new Group 6 homologated cars with 5-liter capacity earlier in the season. At the time of the race, in mid-June, it was already clear that Porsche had better reliability and dominated the world tracks.
Their racing program also included a Long-tail (Langheck) version of their 917 specifically built for the long straights and a maximum speed of Circuit de la Sarthe. Two 917 L entered the race. One by Martini Racing team and one from team Porsche Salzburg. John Wyer, director of the factory Gulf Team, was quite surprised when he understood that Porsche Salzburg was carefully preparing for Le Mans too, also with close support from Porsche.
It began to rain almost immediately after the start. The flag was dropped by Ferry Porsche himself. That was the first year with a non-traditional start where pilots already sat in their cars, having had their belts safely strapped tight by mechanics against the one when pilots ran towards parked cars.
It began to rain almost immediately after the start. The flag was dropped by Ferry Porsche himself. Only one and half hours after have started it began to rain. Until 8 pm it was a heavy rain, causing multiple accidents. One of them was a fatal one killing corner worker at Ford chicane. That accident was caused by the Ferrari of Jackie Ickx and Peter Schetty. That was the last competitive Ferrari with a chance of winning while running 2nd after stunningly fast midnight stint of Jackie Ickx.
Only 16 cars managed to get it to the finish flag. Surprisingly one of them was the 917 with the filming gear for the “Le Mans” movie of Steve McQueen.
It was the #23 917K driven by Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood that took the overall win. Their red and white Porsche Salzburg Short-tail (Kurzheck) 917 crossed the line even before the low-drag 917 L Hippie Car from Martini Racing with drivers Gerard Larrousse and Willi Kauhsen. The red 917 earned their place in the history books as the first Porsche team that won the famous 24 hours of Le Mans.