The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world’s oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923 near the town of Le Mans, France. And it has been called the Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency. The event is organized by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) and is held on the Circuit de la Sarthe, which is composed of closed public roads and dedicated sections of the racing track.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is considered one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world. It is also considered as one of the limbs of the Triple Crown of Motorsport, with the other events being the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix.
The fixed distance racing event chose the winner by determining the minimum time it took to complete the event. However, in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it is determined by the car that covers the greatest distance in 24 hours. Racing teams must manage to maintain continuous speed without sacrificing its stability or its ability to keep running for 24 Hours without mechanical failure.
The independence of the Le Mans event and its circuit and the way things were managed by the ACO had always displeased FIA, as they were continuously trying to take control of every single motorsport event in Europe.
Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA), an organization within the FIA began to take actions to keep things under control.
FISA’s new regulations for the 1993 season Group C endurance racing events demanded an ultra-light 1654-pound racing coupe powered by 3.5-liter naturally aspirated engines, similar to the displacement required for Formula One events in 1989.
Peugeot with their experience with naturally aspirated smaller capacity engines and compact lightweight cars embraced the new laws with open hands along with Mazda, Toyota, and other famous contenders like Lola.
These lightweight cars were basically Formula One cars with ground effect sports car bodies. These were faster than the most advanced sports car that anyone could buy and due to the use of extensive composite materials to develop these cars, extremely expensive as well.
Many privateers and other small-scale automotive manufacturers with relatively low motorsport budgets, backed away from Group C due to the high development costs attached to the cars.
As a result of this, only twenty-eight cars appeared on the grid when the Le Mans start that year, the smallest number of entrants since 1932.
Just like in 1932, the world was on the verge of a massive scale worldwide economic stagnation and recession.
In 1993, Le Mans had only twenty-four entrant cars.
Peugeot won the 1992 and 1993 24 Hours of Le Mans events.
Near the end of the 1992 24 Hours of Le Mans, to reignite the public interest in their event, Le Mans authority, the AOC came up with a new prototype category to attract more manufactures to the event.
These were known as the flat bottom Spyders and featured a central driving position. These could be equipped with either modified production engines or intake restricted racing engines.
ACO and FISA both came to the conclusion that GT racing was the future of motorsport, and decided to welcome GT racers to compete in Le Mans and FIA Group C events.
ACO embraced the wishes of participant teams to run prototypes, and these prototypes were created under the regulations of ACO. These were then categorized under various classes. LMP (Le Mans Prototype) 1 and 2 were categorized according to their engine displacement and curb weight.
Meanwhile, a German racing team manager, Jurgen Barth along with Patrick Peter and Stephane Ratel came up with their own organization called BPR Global GT Endurance Series to organize GT based sports car racing series to replace the World Sportscar Championship which had ended in 1992. BPR acronym derived from the first initial of the last names of the three founders. BPR organized events ran from 1994 to 1996.
BPR categories GT1, GT2, GT3, and GT4 were based primarily on engine displacement and the curb weight.
Le Mans organizers also welcomed the BPR ideology and allowed the BPR categorized cars to enter the Le Mans event as well.
FISA laws stated that to be considered as a GT car, it has to be on sale to the general public and road legal in at least two of the following countries: France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
To comply with homologation requirements, GT1 required a 12-month production run and the GT2 required the production of at least 200 cars.
The whole ideology behind these new regulations and standards was to cut down the costs to make racing more affordable for the manufacturers as well as racing teams. The rules allow the manufacturer to apply for provisional GT1 homologation even at the inception of the planning stage. Logically a manufacturer could get approval for GT class with one single car built if it was sufficient to compete in the event.
GT1 class required a minimum curb weight of 2204 pounds with 31.7 gallons of fuel tanks. The tires were also supposed to be 14 inches or less than 14 inches in terms of width. Engine power output was also limited to 650hp.
Norbert Singer at Porsche carefully went through the regulations and started on the conversion of a Group C Porsche 962 to make it road legal to achieve GT class homologation requirements.
Jochen Dauer, a privateer entered the Le Mans with two race-ready Porsche 962 GT-LM cars and his team won the first and second overall places. This unexpected victory ended up rustling the feathers of FISA and ACO authority boards, and they came up with rules to ban Porsche 962 forever.
In 1995, McLaren, Toyota, Nissan, and few other manufacturers came to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with genuine GT1 racing cars. Porsche entered their Porsche 911 GT2 EVO. Porsche 911 GT2 EVO was basically a production Porsche 911 GT2 with necessary modifications and safety-related modifications to meet the GT1 class requirements.
McLaren won the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans with first, third, fourth, and fifth overall places. This was the first time an all-new entrant had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans since Ferrari did it in 1949.
Porsche engineer Horst Reitter and Norbert Singer concluded that the Porsche’s iconic rear-engine layout wasn’t optimal for a new racer. GT1 class rules also dictated that the cars had to race with flat bottoms from the nose to the rear axle without any aerodynamic tweaks, allowing space for rear diffusers only. This meant that they could not rely on ground-effect technologies. This also meant that they had to go to the drawing board again to figure things out and to start everything from scratch.
Porsche designer Tony Hatter was assigned to assist the development of the new GT race car project. Tony Hatter previously worked with Harm Lagaay to develop the Porsche 993 series.
Tony Hatter teamed up with Norbert Singer and Horst Reitter to create a new body using modern and powerful computer-aided design and manufacturing programs.
Norbert Singer took out the engine of the stock Porsche 993, reversed the engine, and placed it directly behind the driver and the fuel tank. The fuel tank was placed right behind the driver to eliminate any effect on handling caused by the difference of weight of a fully filled tank and an empty one that could result in uneven weight distribution.
This new GT class race car had to look like a Porsche 993 since it is actually based on the mechanical components of a one and being designated as the Porsche 993 GT1.
Jurgen Barth got to test drive the first prototype on March fourteenth, 1996, few weeks before the trials for 24 Hours of Le Mans in April. Norbert Singer had his test drivers drive the prototypes over a five-day test period, covering over 1200 miles.
Two Porsche 993 GT1 cars bearing chassis numbers 001 and 002, entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the 002 chassis Porsche 993 GT1 driven by Bob Wollek, Thierry Boutsen, and Hans Stuck had won the overall second place and first place in the GT1 class. THE remaining BPR events were also won by either one of the Porsche 993 GT1 cars.
This resulted in massive demand for the road-legal Porsche 993 GT1 cars. Porsche sold almost thirty road-legal Porsche 993 GT1 cars. These cars had a maximum power output of 544hp and were sold for DM 1/4 million or more than $900,000 each at the time.
In 1997, FIA absorbed BPR. The BPR Global GT Endurance Series became the FIA GT Championship from 1997 and onwards.
Determined to win the 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans, Mercedes Benz was planning to enter their CLK GTR equipped with a 6.0-liter V12 engine. McLaren improved the handling and performance of its F1-GTR cars. McLaren F1-GTR was based on the stock three-seater McLaren F1 models.
Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking gave his full support for the development of the Porsche 993 GT1 as well as its racing efforts.
Despite doing extensive upgrades and tests, 1997 wasn’t much good for Porsche. Mercedes dominate the 24 Hours of Le Mans that year.
The revised FIA rules and regulations for the 1998 racing season. The revised requirements state that the chassis and the tub of the car have to be built with carbon fiber instead of aluminum alloy. It was stronger, stiffer, and lighter than the aluminum chassis and the tub used on 1996 and 1997 Porsche 993 GT1 cars. This new project was internally known as the 911 GT1 /98.
The wheelbase of the car grew from 113 inches to 98.4 inches to provide enough space for the 26.4-gallon fuel tank placed behind the driver.
The 3198cc water-cooled flat-six delivered 550hp maximum power output and this was clearly not enough to compete with the likes of Mercedes Benz CLK-GTR throughout the season except the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Porsche 911 GT1 cars won the first and second overall places with the winner averaging 123.9mph over the twenty-four hours and covering almost 3000 miles.
FIA announced that they are ending the GT1 category by 2000 to focus more on premier classes such as the LMP1 and LMP2. Due to this, Wendelin Wiedeking asked Norbert Singer and Herbert Ampferer to develop a new car for the new series.
This new project was internally known as the LMP2000. Though he granted the authority to complete the project, he retained his advance approval for racing until he witnesses the performance figures and the test results of the car all by himself.