I was never really convinced about Can-Am races in the past, and it took me quite a while (up until yesterday) to get a real feel of what this is all about. The beasts are unbelievable, there’s just so much bare naked power.
An interesting post about the Porsche 917, brought to you by that911:
The 917 was designed to take on the worlds best and finally bring home the overall victory at Le Mans Porsche desired most. Built in just 10 months the 917 was a technological marvel when it was made featuring exotic materials and Porsche’s first 12 cylinder engine. Roughly based on the 908, the 917 had an aluminum space frame that weighed a mere 100 pounds and was pressurized to reveal cracks. The Space frame was wrapped in a light swooping aerodynamic fiberglass shell. The 917 featured a double wishbone suspension with Titanium springs. The weight savings on the 917 was so extreme that Porsche used a Balsa wood shift knob to save weight. The power plant in the 917 was as wild as the chassis it was in. With variants ranging from 600hp to 1500hp the 917 featured Porsche’s first flat 12 engine. The air-cooled 12 was famous for its top mounted fan which could be seen through the body work.
The 917 was anything but a success when it was introduced however. The 917 was considered suicide by most that drove it. The 917 was unstable and at the 1000km of Nurburgring all of the werks drivers preferred the older 908’s due to it’s better handling and stability over the 917 around the ring. Most of the early drivers would even celebrate when the car broke down due to it’s outrageous power output combined with its feather weight chassis and unstable aerodynamics. In its first year the 917 won only one race and nearly missed Le Mans due to the 25 car rule. After many attempts Porsche the 917 still didn’t bring an overall victory at Le Mans and 1969 was the closest they’d ever been with the older 908 only two seconds behind the GT40 making the smallest margin in Le Mans history. The 917’s lack of performance was compounded by the death of John Woolfe in the 1969 Le Mans after he crashed his 917 on the first lap.
Hope wasn’t lost in Stuttgart though. Porsche had the fastest and most powerful car they had ever built and needed to do something. Porsche decided to give the job to three privateer teams with full factory backing. The famous Martini Racing, Porsche Salzburg, and JWA Gulf racing. While testing to figure out what was causing the instability in the 917, the 917 Can Am Spyder was also being tested. The engineers noticed that the shorter tailed Can Am Spyder was much more stable than the 917. It’s rumored that some of the JWA engineers took a saw and cut the tail off of the 917. With this new sawed off 917 was instantly more stable and the 917K was born. The 917K was built in 1970 and instantly made up for the failure of the 1969 season. The new 917K transformed the 917 from a death box into the renowned race car the 917 is today. In the 1970 season the 917K won the World Makes Championship and many other races. Most importantly Porsche earned its first Outright Victory at Le Mans with the #23 Salzburg outlasting the Gulf favorites. Although they didn’t know it, Porsche was on their way to becoming the most successful manufacturer in Le Mans history. Porsche later repeated this dominance in 1971 in fashionable form. The 1971 season was all Porsche and the 917. With wins everywhere the icing on the cake was Le Mans. The 917 easily won outright and set records on its way to victory. The 917 set the record for the highest speed through the Mulsanne straight at 246mph, the longest distance covered in a race at 3,107.7 miles which stood all the way to 2010, and still holds the track record at Le Mans (which is unlikely to ever be broken due to the modern configuration). The 917 was the racecar that made Porsche a racing super power. For the 72 season the rules were changed and the 917 was now illegal in typical Le Mans fashion. Undeterred Porsche simply went to Can Am and continued it’s success with the 917.