24 Hours of Le Mans 1970-2015 - 45 Porsche stories (18)

24 Hours of Le Mans 1970-2015 - 45 Porsche stories (18)

In 1986, Porsche tried something new at the 24 Hours of Le Mans by entering the four-wheel-drive 961.

The 961 was a racing extrapolation of the 959 sports car. The idea for the 961 burgeoned at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show when Porsche exhibited a prototype concept that complied with the World Rally Championship Group B regulations in force at the time. The Group B era was noted for the advent of four-wheel-drive cars, such as the Audi Quattro and the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16. The 959 followed this trend and paved the way to performances that were previously unheard-of in the world of rallying.

In January 1986, René Metge drove the 959 to victory in the Paris-Dakar rally-raid. A few months later however, he switched to the new 961, powered by a 2.8L turbocharged flat-six engine and again equipped with all-wheel drive, entered by the Porsche factory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. After posting a remarkable performance by clocking the tenth fastest time overall in preliminary testing ahead of a number of class C1 and C2 prototypes, Metge and his partner, fellow Frenchman Claude Ballot-Léna, went on to finish in seventh place in the overall classification.

When the 961 returned to Le Mans a year later, Metge had two new co-drivers in Claude Haldi and Kees Nierop. Unfortunately gearbox failure forced Nierop off the track and out of the race.

Now fully restored, the 961 is exhibited at the Porsche museum in Stuttgart


Jean-Philippe Doret / ACO - Translated from French by David Goward

Photo: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY 31 MAY & SUNDAY 1 JUNE 1986, RACE. The Porsche 961 offered yet another new aesthetic take on the everlasting 911, which reached its half-century in 2013.