Sonoma Standout: Gulf-Porsche 917

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One of the standouts at the Sonoma Historic Motorsport Festival was a legendary Porsche 917, JWA Gulf-Porsche 917-016, delivered to John Wyer in 1970 and raced in the World Sportscar Championship.

Wyer became involved in the 917 program at Porsche’s request, after the 917 had teething troubles in 1969. Previously, Wyer had successfully run Le Mans programs for Ford and Aston Martin.  He turned his attention to the 917, and a legend was born.

The 917 was Porsche’s response to a quirk in sporting regulations that allowed 5000cc engines in sports cars, if 50 cars were manufactured.  For 1969, the number of cars required for homologation was reduced to 25. Porsche built 25 examples of the 917, with the objective of winning at Le Mans in 1970. Porsche had never won at Le Mans.

At  a wet Brands Hatch, the 1970 season opener, chassis 917-016 won in the hands of Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen. Porsche took the top four spots and Rodriguez finished five laps ahead of the next car.  Two weeks later, Rodriguez and Kinnunen won again in 917-016, at Monza.

The car failed to finish Le Mans that year, retiring early with cooling failure. But Porsche achieved its dream, winning Le Mans outright in a 917 driven by Richard Atwood and Hans Hermann. In July, at Watkins Glen, 917-016 tasted victory for the last time.

In 1971, the car served as a test lump and spare car, appearing in one race, a Can-Am race at Watkins Glen. Although chassis 917-016 went to the back of the garage, the 917 enjoyed another year of competitiveness in 1971.  Porsche next turned its attention to Can-Am, dominating that series before engine capacities were reduced in 1974.

Porsche917(2)SON14 Porsche917eSON14 The 917 was initially fitted with a 4.5L flat-12 engine.  Later editions upgraded the power plant to 5.0L. Porsche917dSON14 Porsche917cSON14 Porsche917bSON14 Porsche917fSON14

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Sonoma Historics: First photos! A very full plate…

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You could be excused for feeling pulled in different directions at this year’s Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival at Sonoma Raceway.  After all, it’s not easy to choose between a Gulf-Porsche 917, a group of staggering McLarens, or a collection of GT cars that spans the history of racing.  Add in Trans-Am sedans, IMSA GTs, formula cars and prototypes, and paddock dizziness quickly sets in.

In Europe, tourists have been know to suffer exhaustion from the overwhelming number of churches, museums, and points of historical interest that must be seen.  Compelled to see all of it, they break down and see none of it.  The way to avoid this is to narrow your focus.

In those circumstances, I did what any fanatic would do: I went with first loves.  Cars that I drove, like the Datsun 240Z and BMW coupe, or simply admired, like the Lancia Stratos and the Porsche 917 (below).  If you grew up in love with race cars after 1970, you knew Le Mans, and you loved the 917. Simple as that.

I’ll share more photos in the coming days.  For now, enjoy a few examples on offer last weekend…

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This 917 was sold to John Wyer (JW Automotive) in 1970.  The car won at Brands Hatch and again at the Monza 1000km, but it didn’t finish at Le Mans. It also won at Watkins Glen later the same year.  The car was driven primarily by Pedro Rodriguez, but also by Leo Kinnunen and Richard Atwood.

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The Lancia Stratos (not officially entered) evoked 1970s European style and Sandro Munari’s talent behind the wheel.  We’ll be featuring this car (and the 917) in separate posts, to give them their due.

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The 1968 McLaren M6B (below) could have raced today.  Trumpet exhausts never go out of style, and McLaren’s iconic orange looks as fresh as ever.

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A 1966 Lola T-70 Mk II.  Pretty much the sports car to have in those days.

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The 1976 Luigi Racing BMW 3.0 CSL (below) was an unusual find.  Modestly developed, the car raced Group 2 in Europe for a Belgian team with an Italian owner.  The red, white and green Italian accents reflect the car’s heritage.

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Three-wheeling with a 1970 Datsun 240Z.

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The 1979 Chevy Monza (below) was an unusual champion.

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