Prototype Punisher - 1979 Kremer Porsche 935 K3
By the late 1970's GT racing had undergone a dramatic transformation. The days of showroom stock road legal vehicles quickly paled in comparison to a radical new era introduced in 1976. FIA Group 5 was revised for the fourth time to govern a new breed of "Special Production Cars". These machines were to be based on designs homologated in the lesser Groups 1-4, but were allowed extreme modifications.
The FIA specified only the roof, doors, and bonnet/hood had to remain stock. A further restriction was put on the competing cars' body with, which could not be changed. This rule saw manufacturers like Lancia, BMW, Ferrari, Ford and Porsche implement wide wheel arch extensions while leaving the width of the bodyshell intact. As with the bodywork and chassis regulations, the engine department was almost completely without restriction, allowing for massively powerful turbocharged engines.
For Porsche the new class structure was dealt with through the means of a three-pronged attack. To be able to legally enter a Group 5 challenger, they first had to create a homologated base car for the lower categories. Their base of operations would unsurprisingly be the 930-generation 911 Turbo, their new flagship model. Porsche modified the 930 into the Group 4 spec 934 by bringing the power up to 485 horsepower and increasing the weight by 30 kg to comply with the 945 kg (2083 lbs) minimum weight requirement. In itself a very competitive package, the 934 also provided a stepping stone into Group 5.
The Group 5 variant of the car didn't deviate far from the 934 in terms of concept, but was simply allowed more improvements. Minimum weight was much lower at 860 kg (1895 lbs), and the cars' body was susceptible to rigorous modification. A gigantic wing complemented by monstrous wheel arches filled with massively wide wheels gave the new 935 a very striking visage. The Typ 935 3.0L flat six was given another dose of the finest German steroids, which saw power rise to 560 horsepower. With these specs the 935 was a terrific complement to the company's third weapon, the Group 6 936 sportscar.
As the prototype 935 was doing its rounds in the 1976 World Championship for Makes, Porsche took another hard look at the Group 5 rulebook. By reading closely Porsche's lead engineer Norbert Singer discovered the FIA had never specified a minimum headlight height. As the stock 930 headlight arrangement was less than ideal from an aerodynamic point of view, the decision was made to delete them altogether. Instead Porsche installed large headlights in the front bumper, thereby creating the famous Flachschnauzer (Flatnose). The new setup decreased drag and allowed for downforce-inducing vents, as well as providing space for more efficient cooling.
In 1977 Porsche started selling the 935/77A to customer teams, creating a lucrative business. In the meantime they kept themselves busy by constantly improving upon the concept. Countless iterations of the car followed, but none were sold to Porsche's many customer outfits. Tired of waiting on the hesitant manufacturer, German private entry Kremer Racing began work on an evolution of their own. Kremer Racing was run by brothers Erwin (driver) and Manfred (engineer) Kremer. The pair had introduced a 935 K1 variant in conjunction with Porsche back in 1976. As established Porsche dealers turned race car designers, they felt that the already dominating car could still be improved upon.
Kremer's efforts resulted in 1978's successful K2, but Manfred Kremer still felt the design had even more potential. He turned his attention to saving as much weight as possible, while at the same time making the car more reliable. To this end the complicated air-to-water intercooler system was replaced by a simpler and lighter air-to-air version. With the chance of potential water leaks now completely eliminated, Manfred set about modifying the car's engine mounts to make for easier servicing. To aid balance the oil cooler and fuel tank were moved around in the steel chassis.
Extra motivation was provided by a hugely improved version of the Typ 935 3.0L flat six, which could now produced anywhere from 750 up to 800 horsepower at 8200 depending on boost settings. The immense power and torque (750 nm / 553 lb ft) was dealt with by a strengthened 4-speed manual transmission. The car was slightly heavier at 1025 kg (2259 lbs), but a smoothed out bodystyle inspired by Porsche's 935/78 "Moby Dick" and Kremer's personal findings compensated effectively. The impressive machine was now capable of 350 kph (217 mph).
The finished machine was given to the young and amazingly talented hands of Klaus Ludwig (GER). Ludwig was a rapidly rising star in the world of motorsport, having competed successfully for Ford in since the 1973 season of the Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft (German Racing Championship). Ludwig joined Kremer for 1979 in hopes of finally scoring a title after finishing 2nd in 1975 and 1976.
With the overpowering might of the 935 K3, Ludwig effortlessly grabbed the title he so desired. He won every single race he entered, beating many different Porsche developed 935's in the process. Ludwig ended his season with a total of staggering 10 wins out of a possible 11. Completely untouchable, he took the first step to earning his eventual nickname König (King) Ludwig.
With the national title in their pocket, Kremer Racing looked to a more international setting for their latest weapon. This inevitably lead them to return to the world renowned 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the most challenging races on the planet. The long distance venue would be perfect to showcase the improved reliability engineered by Manfred Kremer.
Klaus Ludwig was joined by American brothers Bill and Don Whittington, The Whittington's were experienced Porsche racers in the States, and had already competed in the 1978 edition of Les Quatre-Vingt Heures. They were however no match for the raw talent of Klaus Ludwig, who was quickly given qualifying duties.
The storming German took the K3 to an unbelievable 3rd place on the grid. His time of 3:34.640 was just 4 seconds slower than the pole-sitting Porsche 936 sportscar of Bob Wollek (FRA) and Hurley Haywood (USA). The second 936 driven by Jacky Ickx (BEL) / Brian Redman (GB) had qualified in 2nd place. This meant Ludwig and the 935 were not only faster than the factory 935's, but had also beaten most of the top level Group 6 cars.
The fastest 935/77A driven by Manfred Schurti (LIE) / Hans Heyer (GER) was two seconds behind in 4th, in front of the Group 6 Mirage M10 Cosworth of Vern Schuppan (AUS) / Jean-Pierre Jaussaud (FRA). Kremer's second car driven by Axel Plankenhorn (GER) / Phillipe Gurdijan (FRA) and the pseudonym "John Winter" (GER) qualified further down in 7th.
With the qualifying results in, Kremer felt that they might have a chance of winning the race overall. They knew that to accomplish this they would have to give Klaus Ludwig as much seat time as was humanly possible. The plan worked perfectly, with Ludwig comfortably cruising around in the top 5. As expected the two Essex Porsche 936's were building a comfortable lead over the rest of the field, followed closely by the two Mirage's.
The Kremer 935 lead the rest of the field, and the order did not change until the first round of pitstops at lap 44. Hurley Haywood encountered trouble with a loose seat after taking over the 936 from Bob Wollek, and had to come in again. Not long after the Schuppan/Jaussaud Mirage came to a halt on the track with a broken gear selector shaft, costing valuable time.
Brian Redman had taken over from Jacky Ickx in the pole-sitting 936, but suffered a terrifying tire blowout at Dunlop Curve. He managed to avoid the barriers by flicking the car into a controlled spin, but the damage had already been done. Large slabs of rubber had torn through the side of the car, severing one of its radiators. The team lost 80 minutes in the pits fixing the issue.
Meanwhile the Kremer team was diligently racking up the laps as the faster machinery was falling apart. The Wollek/Haywood car was still leading comfortably in spite of the unscheduled seat-related stop, but would soon suffer from a persistent misfire. The fourth hour saw the leading 936 come in to replace the fuel injection pump, the fuel filter and other parts of the injection system, which gave the lead to the remaining Mirage of Derek Bell (GB) and David Hobbs (GB).
Derek Bell then encountered trouble with a broken exhaust system, dropping him back down the order. It seemed like the odds were definitely not in favor of the Group 6 sportscars. As the night fell, Klaus Ludwig and the Whittingtons suddenly found themselves in the lead. Closely following their every move was the Gelo Sportswear 935/77A of Schurti/Heyer. The two bitter rivals fought out a titanic battle for the lead, changing position constantly. The second Gelo 935/77A of John Fitzpatrick (GB)/Jean-Louis Lafosse (FRA)/Harald Grohs (GER) was never far away, hoping to pick up the pieces.
During the night slight rain started coming down on Circuit de La Sarthe. The drizzle quickly turned into a mighty thunderstorm halfway through the race. The two Essex 936's had been plagued by various issues early in the running, but were now quickly mowing through the field.
Nevertheless Jacky Ickx found himself stranded on the circuit with busted electrics. He managed to get going again, but was disqualified for receiving outside assistance. Shortly thereafter the Kremer-challenging Gelo Porsche's both went out with engine failures in the 15th hour. Just 4 hours later the second Wollek/Haywood 936 dropped out of a recovered 2nd place with another engine failure.
The many incidents saw Kremer's competition wiped out one by one, which left them with a gargantuan 15 lap lead over the Rolf Stommelen (GER) / Dick Barbour (USA) / Paul Newman (USA) 935 in second place. Like in the DRM, nothing seemed to be able to stop Klaus Ludwig from winning his first Le Mans.
As the race drew to a close, disaster finally struck for Kremer Racing. With Don Whittington at the controls, the alternator belt had snapped on the K3. Don tried furiously to fit a replacement he carried within the car, but it wouldn't fit. After hastily shortening the replacement part he was able to guide the stricken car into the pits where the belt could be fixed properly.
Meanwhile the Barbour car was slowly chiseling away at Kremer's massive lead. They were drawing closer and closer, when a wheel nut jammed during a routine pitstop. It took the Barbour mechanics 23 minutes to saw the stubborn part off, ruining their chances to make up ground.
Kremer got their car going again at noon, retaining a 3 lap lead. When the Barbour car had to slow due to a burnt out piston, Ludwig and the Whittingtons increased the count to 6, taking a comfortable victory after a devastating race. In the process the Kremer team had scored an unprecedented win for a production based car, something not seen since the 1950's.
The Kremer Porsche 935 K3 was the ultimate testament of home-grown ingenuity. The Kremer brothers were convinced they could do better than the big manufacturer they worked for. The K3 was indeed a much improved version of Porsche's design, and managed to beat their fastest prototype by sheer perseverance and a healthy dose of good luck. In the process Kremer Racing proved you don't have to be big to be strong.