Weapon X - 1996 TWR-Porsche WSC-95
The early 1990's saw the slow and painful demise of the famed Group C category. the political turmoil, radical F1-inspired rule changes and economic downturn of the time forced Porsche to abandon its dominating factory sportscar program. Privateers like Courage and Kremer still soldiered on however, and would give Porsche an ace in the hole for 1994.
Through the semi-independent Dauer team, Porsche indirectly won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the barely legal, loophole exploiting Dauer 962 Le Mans. The car was essentially an old 962C Group C machine adapted to road legal specification to make homologation as a GT1 class car possible. The 962 Le Mans took the 1994 Le Mans by storm, and reinvigorated Porsche's interest in the world of sportscar racing.
Looking to repeat the formula of doing half the work and getting all of the glory, Porsche contacted Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR), famous for building Jaguar’s Le Mans racers since 1986. Porsche had been wanting to get in on the lucrative American IMSA series to help promote the brand overseas, as the North American market still presented a major sales opportunity. The car was not intended to be a factory effort, but would receive Porsche’s approval and limited support like the Dauer before it.
TWR looked around their shop and found the disused carbonfiber monocoque chassis of a Jaguar XJR-14 Group C car lying around, the same type that had won the 1991 World Sportscar Championship. Porsche agreed to TWR’s proposition to use this chassis as a starting point for the project.The XJR-14’s chassis had been designed to accept a Formula 1 derived Ford-Cosworth HB 3.5L V8, which posed a slight problem, as Porsche exclusively used turbocharged flat sixes in its race cars.
Porsche’s engineers then set out to modify the carbon fiber tub to accept its tried and tested Typ-935 3.0L twin-turbocharged flat 6, an engine famous for powering almost every fast Porsche since the late 1970’s. Despite its age, the engine was a proven multiple race winner with an reputation for impeccable reliability. The twin turbochargers meant the sky was the limit in terms of power, but mandatory intake restrictors limited output to 540 horsepower at 8000 rpm.
A TWR-developed 6-speed manual transmission was fitted to deal with the immense torque figure. As much as 650 nm (479 lb ft) of torque was available at 5500 rpm. Because the World Sports Car regulations mandated that all cars had to be roadsters, the roof of the tub was cut off and a body was made to fit it accordingly The completed package weighed in at a sprightly 875 kg (1929 lbs).
Feeling confident that the car would be a big hit in IMSA racing, Porsche suffered a major letdown before the start of the 1995 season. IMSA’s governing body had decided to move away from the World Sports Car regulations the WSC-95 was built for, which left the car without a championship. As Porsche was already developing the 911 GT1 for the European series, it had no use for the new car. The project was subsequently cancelled.
In February 1996, Reinhold Joest of Joest Racing (now famous for running Audi’s Le Mans effort) gave Porsche's management a call.
Joest was a former Porsche factory driver and had long been a good customer of its racing department running private Porsche entries. He requested Porsche give him the unused WSC-95 prototype for use at the 1996 24 Hours of Le Mans. Porsche agreed on the terms that Joest would pay for the modifications needed to bring the car to LMP1 specification. In addition Joest funded the construction of a second car to complete his team. To top it off, Joest managed to convince Porsche to help with the development of the car, on his own expense of course.
The two cars were completed just in time for the pre-qualifying session at Le Mans in May 1996. Reinhold Joest's drive line-up consisted of veteran Porsche Le Mans racer Davy Jones (USA), DTM driver Alexander Wurz and 1989 Le Mans winner Manuel Reuter for the black #8 car. For #7 he selected IMSA GT driver Didier Theys (BEL), former Ferrari F1-driver Michele Alboreto and former F1-driver Pierluigi Martini (ITA).
Joest's merry men proved the unexplored potential of the WSC-95 by setting the 5th and 10th fastest times in the Le Mans Pre-Qualifying., easily beating the factory 911 GT1’s. In actual qualifying just three weeks later, the cars would show their rapid development rate with #8 taking a surprise pole position. The works 911 GT1’s managed 2nd and 4th, with the #7 WSC-95 in 7th.
During the race #8 would lose the lead to #7, which would remain there for almost the entire 24 hour run. Closely following its every move were the two 911 GT1’s, eager to capitalize on a mistake. Sadly the #8 car would eventually succumb to electrical problems caused by a collision with a back marker in the closing stages of the race.
Its sister car held on however, and went on to snatch the victory from the factory Porsche team, with the #25 911 GT1 closest to it a full lap down. The spectacular victory surprised friend and foe, as nobody had expected Joest Racing's rushed project to succeed against the might of Porsche's own. In the process Alexander Wurz became the youngest driver to win Le Mans, at the tender age of 19.
Reinhold Joest had originally intended to only enter the 1996 edition of the famous endurance event, but the surprise victory persuaded him to try again for 1997. To save costs he cut the team down to just the #7 machine. Running just one car presented a considerable risk in the event of mechanical problems, but after the 1996 race Joest was feeling lucky.
However, the fierce competition in 1997 made another confident victory seem almost impossible. BMW had strengthened its bond with McLaren and developed the long tailed F1 GTR ‘97, which showed promising speed in the FIA GT championship. Eventually 6 of the new cars were entered in the 1997 event. New factory entry Nissan was also keen on the overall victory with 3 examples of their impressive R390 GT1 model. In addition, Porsche itself had expanded the 911 GT1 project with a 996-nosed '97 model, leaving the older 993 to privateer teams. The combined armada resulted in a total of 9 cars entered.
The car was driven by two former Ferrari Formula 1 team mates (1985-1986), Italian Michele Alboreto and Sweden’s Stefan Johansson, supported by a young Danish rookie by the name of Tom Kristensen. The impressive driver line-up managed to put the car on pole position once again, in front of the #25 factory Porsche 911 GT1 and a privately entered Ferrari 333 SP.
During the race the WSC-95 would get some much needed breathing space, as virtually all 911 GT1’s dropped back. Surprisingly the factory and privateer cars suffered from various serious reliability issues. Broken gearboxes and engines, overheating, fires and two accidents made sure Porsche's effort was thoroughly out of contention. As Nissan’s unproven R390 had similar problems, the battle was between the WSC-95 and BMW-McLaren’s F1 GTR ‘97.
The F1 ‘97 was more than a match for the WSC-95, but after a tense and close race the Joest Racing machine would come out victorious for the second time in a row. The #41 Gulf Team Davidoff F1 ‘97 would come in 2nd, again with a lap down. Completing the podium was a factory BMW Motorsport F1 ‘97, with a further 3 laps down on the WSC-95.
The two surviving privateer 911 GT1’s would manage no higher than 5th (#33 Schubel Engineering) and 8th (#27 BMS Scuderia Italia). Nissan’s lone surviving #23 R390 GT1 came in outside of the top 10 in lowly 12th position. The incredible second win for Joest Racing also marked the first of 9 for Tom Kristensen, who would later become known as Mr. Le Mans.
The TWR-Porsche WSC-95 was the decapitated mutant offspring of an old Jaguar and an ancient Porsche race engine. Through a stroke of luck an a well placed phone call it humiliated the established order, including one of its parents. The stellar back to back wins proved to Porsche that the car was not a fluke, which made them reconsider their priorities.
For 1998 Porsche would fully support Joest Racing as a factory entry, and the WSC-95 would be transformed into the Porsche LMP1-98. The prodigal son had returned.