24 Hours of Le Mans – Giants Past And Present

Hans Herrmann - Timo Bernhard - Le Mans

It may have been 50 years since the 1970 victory in Le Mans for Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood in their illustrious Porsche 917 KH but the retired F1 champion from Stuttgart remembers every second of his dangerous encounter as he chats to 2017 winner, Timo Bernhard alongside the modern Porsche 919 Hybrid.

The respect for one another is obvious and shines through the smiles and wrinkles as both new and old compare anecdotes in a photographic studio in Friolzheim between Stuttgart and Pforzheim.

The setting is complete as Hans Herrmann, 1970 Le Mans winner, stands proudly in front of his original Porsche 917 KH, with his old helmet… a fragile-looking thing that looks much like a toffee hammer could penetrate its dark grey exterior with ease. In contrast, Bernhard’s high tech head gear with its perfect ergonomic shape gives the impression he could be transported Back to the Future if needs must.

Hans Herrmann - Timo Bernhard - Le Mans

As if in direct competition, Timo, the latest Porsche Le Mans overall winner, caresses his Porsche 919 Hybrid and recalls covering the first and last lap of his victorious race, while Herrmann who’s now a sniff away from celebrating his 93rd birthday admits he drove the last lap.

Herrmann winks at his youthful counterpart saying:
“We still drove in pairs but those young guys today look lazy by comparison… they drive in threes. One of them can go and sleep for eight hours.

“When I bought a tube of toothpaste back then, I used to stand in the shop thinking ‘Hope you get to finish it’.”

Le Mans – Worlds Apart

While it’s impossible to compare automotive ‘apples and pears’, the technical differences in the two racing cars facing each other shines brightly… The 917 KH (Kurzheck) still proudly wearing it’s number 23, which started under the Porsche Salzburg name, tips the scales at around 800Kg and was powered by a 4.5-litre 12-cylinder engine that drove the rear wheels at 580 PS. It’s worth remembering these things had to be treated with TLC, warming the engine up for around ten minutes before the car was even ready to race. With an artificial resin skin of only 1.2 mm thick and a cockpit that was so tight the pilot’s helmet was nudging the roof, this was no place for those suffering from claustrophobia and required nerves of steel when travelling at break-neck speeds.

Hans Herrmann - Timo Bernhard - Le Mans

The Future Is Safer

By contrast, the significantly larger 919 Hybrid has a team of number crunching technicians on hand as they meticulously prepare the high-tech machine for hours on end prior to going into battle. Rolling tests are continuous for the 2-litre V4 turbo petrol engine that delivers 368 kW (almost 500 PS) to the rear wheels paired to an electric motor with 294 kW (over 400 PS) for the front axle – making the Porsche an all-wheel-drive hyper machine.

Timo Bernhard says:
“The 917 was the high-tech car of its time. With it, Porsche showed how to build the best prototypes according to the rules of the time. The same goes for the 919 Hybrid. This was the car that Porsche used to show how technology for the road is developed in motorsport – just look at the Taycan.

“As much as the technology may have changed, the enthusiasm for racing continues unabated. Le Mans has the same significance today as it did 50 years ago. But now it is one of the last motorsport adventures because no other circuit layout combines a race track with public roads.”


The car that was driven to victory by Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood in 1970

As an avid follower of F1 since he quit 1970, Hans Herrmann is happy in his own skin, promising his wife he was always retiring after his close-run second-place finish in 69’… “of course, he smiles, that wasn’t true and I was able to actually finish my career winning in Le Mans which became one of the most important successes for Porsche.”

As the pair depart with A total of 19 overall victories, 108 class successes and indescribable emotions linked with Porsche and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it becomes clear how much respect they have for each other, and the cars they drive and have driven successfully…

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Courtesy Porsche newsroom

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