Anyone with even a passing interest in Porsche’s motorsport activities can’t fail to be aware of its history at Le Mans, one that encompasses a record 19 outright victories. The last of those appearances on the winner’s rostrum was in 2017 with the dominant 919 Hybrid, but two decades previously, the 1990s was a more barren affair at Le Mans for Porsche.

The 15th win had been achieved in 1994 with the Dauer 962, a racer that was capable, but showing its age. It would take until 1998 to chalk up the 16th victory, and that would come courtesy of an entirely new, 911-derived design – the Porsche GT1.

Porsche knew that it needed something fresh to remain competitive, and that its new racer needed to look like the 911, so with Norbert Singer at the helm, it set to work on the GT1 to compete in the BPR GT Series.

Tony Hatter began drafting a design in 1995, one that borrowed pretty much the entire front section of the 993 – rather apt as he’d designed the car originally – but with the body cut behind the driver and with a new steel section grafted on behind to carry the engine and transmission that had been turned through 180 degrees and mid-mounted. 

After a 2nd and 3rd place at the 1996 Le Mans the car was updated for the 1997 season, becoming the GT1 EVO and gaining 996-style headlamps, among other developments. There was no finish at Le Mans that year, but despite outright victory remaining elusive, Porsche’s engineering director Horst Marchart was persuaded by race team boss Herbert Ampferer to stick with the project, and for 1998 what amounted to a completely new car was developed.

Effectively a clean-sheet design that shared almost no parts with the road cars, there was little pretence of remaining close to the production 911, despite the Board’s wishes – this was essentially a prototype, and in fact the FIA regulations required just one ‘Straßenversion’ road model to be built. 

The GT1 marked a number of firsts for Porsche, one of which was the use of a carbon-fibre monocoque chassis, with the sections and panels constructed by English specialists, CTS. Talented engineer Horst Reitter had designed the carbon tub and he had plenty of experience, having also been responsible for Porsche’s first racing monocoque for the 956.

There was another key difference in that it was also designed entirely on computers, with no full-scale model produced, Singer adopting a new method to develop the aerodynamic package. 

A quarter-scale model was tested in the wind tunnel, with the data transferred to CAD computers for production of the final, full-sized car; that was then checked a second time in Weissach’s wind tunnel, many further hours being devoted to honing the final shape.

For the full, deep-dive feature into the Porsche GT1 ’98, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 184 in shops now or get it delivered to your door via here. You can also download a digital copy with high definition bonus galleries to any Apple or Android device.

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