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Did Audi equal the number of Porsche victories at Le Mans ?

21 June 2014

Comment by Racing Sports Cars

Everywhere you can hear and read that Porsche has scored 16 overall victories in the famous Le Mans 24 Hour race, while the Audi closed the gap this year with their thirteenth victory. Well this kind of Porsche statistics were produced by somebody in ACO, even before Audi was involved in the top class sports car racing and nobody could expect within next 15 years Audi would be beaten only twice... This year situation changed a little as true Audi and true Porsche, both have exactly 13 win in Le Mans and we would like to make it quite clear.

Audi actually equalled Ferrari in 2008 (8th win). Having let the Peugeot win the next year, Audi was since then, year after year, closing the gap on Porsche and ironically managed to catch them exactly in the year 2014, which would be known as Porsche's return to the top prototype class in Le Mans. And had the Porsche been a little more reliable they could actually win this time too.

Did Audi equal the number of Porsche victories at Le Mans ? (comment by Racing Sports Cars) - picture number 001Did Audi equal the number of Porsche victories at Le Mans ? (comment by Racing Sports Cars) - picture number 002

And how it happened that so many people, journalists, and perhaps some statisticians 'believe' that Porsche won 16 times, and the rest is simply repeating this wrong statement over and over again, actually since the last Porsche overall win in 1998?

In the Le Mans history there were several examples when the make of an actual entrant was not quite clear and especially less careful journalist, or even ACO member producing results sheets, entry lists, etc. were simply not too careful and the real names of the cars, their homologation, etc. And not always the problem was so obvious as it was for example in 2009 when Aston Martin fitted Lola coupe with modified bodyworks and tried to call them Aston Martins. At that time Lola started a dispute and Aston was forced to prefix their cars with a Lola name, thus retaining their original make. Actually the cars then had two chassis plates. One from Lola, one from Aston Martin. No doubt, if they had won that year, Aston Martin would try to claim it was their win after 50 years. Yes, it would be correct for the factory team, but not for the Aston Martin, as a manufacturer.

From the history we know more disputable examples, such as Mirages. When they won in 1975, were they actually Gulf, or were they Mirages? Or in 1979, the new Mirage M10s were sponsored and referred to as Ford 10s. Wikipedia says: "The French Ford dealers acted as sponsors, so the M10 was officially referred to as Ford M10. Internally, however, the car ran under the typing Mirage M10." (translation from German). We know that it is possible to buy a chassis and, after an agreement with its builder, any manufacturer can also buy rights for it and homologate officially under their name. We need not go too far in history: current Alpine A450 is nothing else but renamed and homologated Oreca 03, while the current Morgans are still fitted with a Pescarolo 01 chassis plates (though actually produced by OnRoak Automotive). Considering this fact, we tend to believe that in 1975 the Le Mans could have been won by Gulf, and in 1979 Ford made one of their last appearances in the top prototype class. But, our results still show them as Mirages at the moment - this needs to be clarified, one day hopefully.

Another example is Renault-Alpine in 1978. Everybody claimed and believed that it was the Renault year, when they won. Renault then concentrated on Formula 1 altogether. But, while in Formula 1 they were pure Renaults, in Le Mans the cars still wore the old good designations of Alpines, A442 or A443. Having been in touch with a couple of former Alpine/Renault Sport team members in recent years, we changed our opinion and consider this victory to be an Alpine victory. Renault paid all that, Renault provided engines, Renault even owned Alpine, but the car that won Le Mans was simply an Alpine, and should be counted as such.

For decades we believed that Alpines must have been officially converted to Renaults at some point of their history, but could never find such evidence. A conversion like that actually happened with the Sauber/Mercedes-joint effort in 1990 during the Group C era. The cars were Saubers since 1985, despite many official lists incorrectly called them Mercedes, or Kouros-Mercedes. In 1988 Mercedes officially stepped in and supported the Sauber racing programme, which then became much more successful. In 1989 the Saubers were even repainted and became known as Silver Arrows. But it was only in 1990 when they were officially rebranded as Mercedes-Benz, dropping the Sauber name altogether. Fortunately, the statistics we saw last time correctly claimed Mercedes-Benz and Sauber (or Sauber-Mercedes) with one victory to each of them - for their achievements in 1952 and 1989 respectively.

So now we can progress to the Porsche. While their 13 victories are undoubted and quite correct (1970-71 with P917, 1976-77-81 with P936, 1979 with P935 and then 1982-87 with P956/P962, followed by the last proper Porsche win in 1998), there are three victories, which simply should not be counted towards the Porsche as a chassis manufacturer. Our claim is well supported by all written above when compared with the facts about winning cars in 1994, 1996 and 1997. All those cars were fitted with Porsche engines. In 1994 it was even ran by the official Porsche factory team but the cars were actually homologated as Dauers 962 LM (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dauer_962_Le_Mans). (see above a very similar situation of Aston Martin in 2009, a factory team racing Lolas?)

Porsche just took the opportunity, a loophole in the ACO rules and entered Dauers in the GT class with a hope for an overall victory. They were not fastest, but outlasted obsolete and restricted Group C cars (modern and fast 3.5-litre atmo cars were banned in the final Group C year). Wiki says quite correctly: "The Dauer 962 Le Mans is a sports car based on the Porsche 962 racing car. Built by German Jochen Dauer's Dauer Racing, a racing version of this car went on to win the 1994 24 Hours of Le Mans with the support of Porsche through the use of regulation loopholes."

Another two so-called Porsche victories are even more absurd. In 1996-97 the same car won Le Mans and it was called and entered as a TWR. Just like Sauber C9s became Mercedes-Benz C9s in 1990, that TWR-labelled car became officially a Porsche. But not sooner than in 1998, when it was modified by the Porsche factory and homologated as a Porsche. However during the heyday of the car in Le Mans, it was purely a TWR, nothing to do with a Porsche, except for the engine power. Even the entry lists available in our archives call the car correctly as TWR and TWR WSC, respectively (links: 1996 and 1997). There was even not a single word of Porsche in the official programme! The winning car actually started life as a Jaguar XJR-14, chassis TWR-691 (Jaguars were built and raced by TWR during the Group C era, and this was why they became TWR, not a Porsche).

Other interesting links: Official race programme entry 1979 - note the Ford M.10, and also strangely entered Rondeaus at the time. This is also the reason that sometimes even the official entry lists cannot be taken quite seriously - nobody doubts the Rondeau won the 1980 event, despite anywhere officially listed as 'Le Point ITT M379B Cosworth' - this is also a reason we are still not quite sure about the 1975 and 1979 Mirages.

In any case there is no doubt that Porsche as an officially recognized chassis manufacturer won the big Le Mans event only 13 times, exactly the same times as Audi did. And we would be more than happy if the organisers and other archivists made it clear and did not quote some old and wrong data over and over again. Not only it would be correct, it would be the real truth, but it would be much more entertaining from the media and marketing point of view, when promoting the Le Mans race next year. Both Audi and Porsche will have a strong chance to beat the real record in a number of overall victories and it would be if everybody involved knows that, not only a few people close to Racing Sports Cars. We believe, now it is a good time to change this widely accepted opinion.

Le Mans 24 Hours 2014 report

(Photos courtesy and copyright of Stéphane Brard.)

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